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Donation Heart Ribbon

Red Donation Bins Help San Diego Food Bank As Hunger Surges

Audio

Aired 12/23/09

You see the big red bins for food donations all over San Diego this time of year. But what happens to the cans and boxes of food after they’re donated? KPBS reporter Susan Murphy followed some donated items from red bin to final destination.

— You see the big red bins for food donations all over San Diego this time of year. But what happens to the cans and boxes of food after they’re donated? KPBS reporter Susan Murphy followed some donated items from red bin to final destination.

There may be an economic chill in the air but that hasn’t frozen the spirit of giving among many San Diegans this holiday season. After two years of recession and job losses, a growing number of people rely on charities, like the San Diego Food Bank. In turn, the food bank relies on the community to help stock its shelves. That’s where those red bins come in.

“We feed 300,000 people a month. The food comes in and it goes straight back out,” says food bank spokesman Chris Carter. He says they’re feeding 100,000 more people this year than last year.

“We have a very high turnover because the need has increased so dramatically,” says Carter.

Hundreds of red food bins are set up around the county this time of year. The hope is they’ll be filled by generous shoppers, like Bernadette Perkins. She picked up a few extra items to donate during her recent shopping trip. “Cereal, peanut butter, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, pork-n-beans, green beans."

Perkins says she wants to do what she can to help. “For some of the people that really need it, some of the people who are unemployed, families with children, cause I’m sure they need it.”

Carter says once the bins are filled, they’re brought to the food bank for processing. “We get food, we sort it, we package it, and it goes straight out to our non-profit partners and also to our 146 distribution sights," says Carter.

A volunteer does a rough sort of the donated food. He checks items and removes any that are dented or damaged.
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Above: A volunteer does a rough sort of the donated food. He checks items and removes any that are dented or damaged.

This process is actually quite involved. Every week, hundreds of volunteers sort the food item by item from the red bins. The donated goods are inspected for damage, expiration dates are checked, and the food is categorized, boxed and ready for distribution. Charity volunteers then come to select their food, load it up and take it to people in need.

Charity volunteers pick out food items at the Food Bank's warehouse on December 17, 2010 in San Diego, California.
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Above: Charity volunteers pick out food items at the Food Bank's warehouse on December 17, 2010 in San Diego, California.

Colleen Bethea is picking out cans of food to take back to her church in Escondido. She visits the food bank twice a week to shop. She says meats and other proteins are among the favorites. "Tuna is gold for us. People really enjoy getting the tuna," she says. "We really try to provide each week a real wholesome bag of food that people can go home with and have a nice meal together."

Bethea says hundreds of people show up at her church every Monday for two bags of food. She’s glad to be able to help.

"We really appreciate everybody’s donations of any shape, size amount, whatever. It’s really a blessing we can do this for people," says Bethea, "because they are in need. There’s a lot, a lot of people -- our numbers increase every week."

Irma Aguilar relies on the church to help her put meals on the family table. Today, she brought her 8-year-old twin daughters.

“I come here today to pick up food – dry food, canned food and bread," says Aguilar.

Irma Aguilar and her twin 8-year-old daughters, Karen (L) and Kathy (R) come to St. John's Catholic Church in Encinitas to pick up two bags of food on December 14, 2009.
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Above: Irma Aguilar and her twin 8-year-old daughters, Karen (L) and Kathy (R) come to St. John's Catholic Church in Encinitas to pick up two bags of food on December 14, 2009.

Another young mother, Dawn, with three children says without it, she doesn’t know how she’d feed her family. “It would be very difficult right now. We’re struggling right now as it is, and this helps immensely.”

Although the holiday food bin donation program is doing well now, Carter says the overall donations to the food bank are down significantly. Corporations that traditionally support them have suffered large losses and contributed less money. Carter says when the holidays are gone, the spirit of giving goes with them.

“Unfortunately in January our donations start to plummet. For us, hunger has no season, and we’re struggling with hunger 365 days a year," Carter explains. Carter says it’s important for the food bank to maintain that flow of donations so it can get that food back out into the community.

But for now, the spirit of the season keeps the red bins filling up fast.

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