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Food is Scarce for a Growing Number of San Diegans

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(Photo: San Diego Food Bank volunteers hand out food in Spring Valley. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS )

A growing number of San Diegans are having trouble putting food on the table. The San Diego Food Bank says it's seen a startling increase in demand for handouts.  And with rising food prices and a souring economy, things aren't likely to get any better soon. KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg has the story.

When the Adventist Church in La Mesa hands out free food, there are plenty of people who are happy to get it.


Mauro Cappa and customer : Like some tomatoes, sir? Sure. Take a bag, two, three, one, what? Two. Two, okay. Good luck, sir. Thank you….


Volunteer Mauro Cappa smiles at an elderly gentlemen, and grabs another bag of food to hand to the next customer.


Mauro Cappa: We have peanut butter, we have spaghettis, grapefruit juice, we have cans of green beans, corn, sweet peas, tomato sauce, tomato soup, probably about ten items.


And as an added bonus, there's a nice supply of fresh tomatoes.



San Diego Food Bank volunteers hand out food in Spring Valley. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS

La Mesa resident Vera comes to this church once a month to pick up a bag of food.


Vera: It sure helps out. It stretches me to the first of the month. It really saves a lot, it really does.


Vera doesn’t want to give out her real name, because she's a little bit embarrassed about needing a handout.


Vera is 71. And she never thought she'd be in this position.


Vera: Well, I didn't plan my life that well, I guess, and so, Social Security isn't enough to really do anything else. So if you can cut down on your food, it allows you a haircut, that kind of thing. So that's where we cut down.


A younger woman walks into the church auditorium and grabs a bag.


She also doesn’t want to be identified, so we'll call her Stephanie.


Stephanie is a single mom. She's unemployed. She gets some cash aid for her son, and some food stamps, too. But Stephanie says it's not nearly enough.


Stephanie: You know, it's really scary to know that, okay, we're going to go shopping now, but, by the end of the month we're not gonna have any money, we're not gonna have any food, and you know, it's just stress. It puts stress on me and my son too, you know, it’s not good.


The San Diego Food Bank says from the first to the second quarter this year, it saw a 102% increase in food handouts in La Mesa.


People are also having a tough time in nearby Spring Valley.


Volunteer and customer: How many people in your family? Huh? Quantas personas…seis….


In a church parking lot in Spring Valley, people line up behind a truck filled with donated food.


Carmen Zambrano coordinates food handouts at this site, and at a location in San Diego.


Carmen Zambrano: We were giving out to 50 families, now it's up to 100, in this site alone. In our mid-city site, it's more than doubled. A lot of people just can't make ends meet.


Chris Carter is the director of communications for the San Diego Food Bank.


He says his group and their community partners feed some 200,000 people a month. But Carter says he knows they're not reaching everyone who needs help.


Chris Carter: There's around 480,000 people in San Diego County who are classified as low income, the majority of these people are below the federal poverty level. 181,000 are children under the age of 12. And these are kids who are going to bed hungry at night. 


Food, gas, and rent are expensive in San Diego County. The jobless rate is the highest it's been in 13 years. Economists don't think things will get better in the near future.


Stephanie says she's really worried.


Stephanie: When you're a parent, you try to, you know, plan for the future. You try to teach your kids things so that they have a better future and whatever but, I mean it's hard to do that when you scared of, you don't even know what's gonna happen next week, next month, you know, much less in a year from now, you know? Yeah, it's really scary.


The San Diego Food Bank handed out nine million pounds of food last year. That sounds like a lot. But actually, each bag of food is only meant to supplement a family for about four days. The rest of the month, people are on their own.


Kenny Goldberg, KPBS News.


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