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Fighting Hunger In San Diego

Audio

Aired 9/14/09

September is Hunger Action Month. We take a look at the current hunger situation in San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. In President Obama's major speech on the economy today, he has, of course, pointed out the successes of his administration's policies. But, the president added, as he has done many times, that it will be months before the country sees a real economic turnaround. Here in San Diego we know too well that we are still in a period of recession and high unemployment, compounded with a continuing high rate of home foreclosures. Many people who used to be able to take care of themselves and their families without any assistance now find they could use a little help. That's what makes this September's Hunger Action Month in San Diego take on added urgency. The Feeding America organization's nationwide network of 205 food banks is calling upon communities to take action and get involved. Here to give us an update on food assistance programs in San Diego, how to access them and how to help are my guests. Mitch Mitchell, chairman of the San Diego Food Bank. Welcome back, Mitch.

MITCH MITCHELL (Chairman, San Diego Food Bank): Hey, Maureen, thank you very much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: John Lucero Criswell is executive director of the San Diego Hunger Coalition. John, welcome to These Days.

JOHN LUCERO CRISWELL (Executive Director, San Diego Hunger Coalition): Thanks, it's great to be here.

CAVANAUGH: And Gary Petill is director of Food Services for the San Diego Unified School District. Gary, welcome.

GARY PETILL (Director of Food Services, San Diego Unified School District): Thank you, Maureen. Thanks for having us.

CAVANAUGH: And we'd like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you've gotten food assistance, we would like you to share your story with us or if you have a question on where to go for help or how to help, give us a call. The number is 1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. Well, as I mentioned, September is Hunger Action Month so, Mitch, can you tell us what that actually means?

MITCHELL: Well, it's a symbolic time period which we spend the month really focusing on a problem that some people really overlook and don't think about here in – particularly in San Diego, and that is the issue of hunger and the impact on families and on children and so Hunger Awareness Month or Hunger Action Month is really designed to increase people's awareness about this problem that does exist in this wonderful region.

CAVANAUGH: Is that the goal of the whole Hunger Action Month? Or are there other things that you want to accomplish?

MITCHELL: You know, at the Food Bank, we use Hunger Action Month to try and create some enthusiasm and some energy around generating more food supply. We look for both contributions, monetary and foodwise, but we really also like to use the month to just highlight the numbers. The numbers in San Diego are really amazing and they're in pockets that most people, when they hear them are just completely surprised at, and so it's a great month to remind everyone that hunger can affect anyone, your next door neighbor, a relative, and it can be in north county, it can be in east county, in can be in South Bay or San Diego. So we use the month really to try and educate people.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Mitch, you kind of read my mind because that was the next question I was going to ask you. Do you have any numbers, any statistics you want to share with us about how hunger is increasing or how people coming to the Food Bank, what are the numbers that you have?

MITCHELL: The numbers are astounding and we look at this and say in a region that has Rancho Santa Fe and La Jolla, you know, and north county coastal, we're feeding right now 300,000 people a month. That's up 100,000 year over year. When you look at the news reports, median income nationwide is down $50,000.00 – or it's down, sorry, it's down 3.6%, it's around $50,000.00. In San Diego County, which is a high cost of living entity, the impact of this downturn in the economy has been amazing, and I'll give you an example. We are seeing increases in demand for food in certain areas that is exceeding, you know, 50, 60%. Vista, for instance, we saw an 86% increase in demand for food. One other statistic that is startling is our emergency food assistance program, which, you know, this is when people come to us who everything – they can't get anything to work and they're short on cash, they ask us for food. We went, year over year, we had 37,000 people – 32,000 people enrolled last year, first quarter; we have 75,000 people enrolled right now. And, you know, we're getting requests, tremendous increases in requests in places like Solana Beach, Vista, Escondido. Probably the saddest places, the numbers I've seen, are Ramona and Julian, people that live out in the backcountry and you're seeing just tremendous impacts on people all over the region.

CAVANAUGH: And John Criswell, you're with the San Diego Hunger Coalition. I want to ask you, have you seen a similar increase? Can you expand on what Mitch has been talking about?

CRISWELL: Our main focus at the San Diego Hunger Coalition is taking advantage of a very powerful tool that we have in our toolkit to tackle hunger, which is the food stamp program of the USDA. And anecdotally, our people who are out helping people get enrolled in this program or anecdotally from working with the County, hearing stories about the increased need. Yeah, there is more people applying statistically from a year-on increase. At the San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency, they have increased about 34% of the applications that they're processing just over a year. And so, yeah, I can concur with those figures that the need is acute, the need is felt, and the need is increasing in the community.

CAVANAUGH: And do you have any idea of the kind of people that you're serving now as opposed to perhaps in the past?

CRISWELL: I'll say that we are doing a program where we're reaching out into City Heights and we're working, increasing eligible food stamp participation just in the City Heights area, which is one of the most diverse areas in the country. And what I've been struck by is just the incredible diversity of people who are working to make ends meet in our community. And in terms of differences over previous years, I just see us working with a lot more people, it's just the same people just a lot more.

MITCHELL: I'll add onto that. You know, Maureen, what we've seen and it's – We began to anticipate this last year, is last year's middle class family was – that was, you know, sitting there, everything was fine, they were making their mortgage or the rent payment, and all of a sudden the economy turns down, someone loses a job or both people lose a job, so you're now seeing, when you say a diversity, as John said, a diversity, you're now seeing people that last year would never have thought about asking for help for any reason and they're now standing in line for free produce. And so it is all ethnicities, it is all-range wealth groups based on '07 numbers. I mean, so there are some upper income families who now are struggling and are looking for assistance in some instances.

CAVANAUGH: John, before I let go the idea of food stamps, we did a number of programs earlier…

CRISWELL: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …in the year about the problems some people were encountering in signing up for the program. I wonder if, indeed, you have seen an increase in the number of people signing up and if you've heard anything about it being – the process being any easier?

CRISWELL: We have posted increases here in San Diego County in terms of the percentage of eligible people enrolled in the program, which is good news. While we could do much better, it's good to see a report that just came out by Food Research Action Center, or FRAC, that shows about a 10% increase in the number of eligible people participating in the program over the two years from their previous release of that report. And so that, while we – there's still more that we can do and improve, that's good and those numbers, more importantly, were posted before a lot of restructuring was taken on by the County to make their process more efficient. So we expect those numbers to get better as we move forward, and it's coming at a time when it is in sore need.

CAVANAUGH: That's John Criswell. He's executive director of the San Diego Hunger Coalition. I'm speaking with him and Mitch Mitchell of the San Diego Food Bank, and going to bring Gary Petill into the conversation. He's director of Food Services for the San Diego Unified School District. I want to let you know that we're inviting you to join the conversation at 1-888-895-5727. And, Gary, as I say, you direct Food Services for San Diego Unified students. Tell us a little bit about the food service program. Who's eligible for free or reduced price lunch, that kind of thing?

PETILL: Well, Maureen, right now we're at about 60% of our students of 134,000 that are eligible. There's several students also that are probably should be eligible that are not because of the income eligibility levels, we feel, in San Diego, in California, are too low. The income eligibility to receive free meals is the same in this state here as it is in, say, Alabama, and the cost of living here is tremendously different. And, you know, Mitch and John have been wonderful and we've partnered together in a program called our Summer Fun Café, along with the City of San Diego, SDG&E, and other organizations. And we've kind of come together and we've fed over 250,000 children lunch this summer at these Park & Rec Services and some schools for summer schools that we had to allow children to come in who were not attending school so the parents, it would be a relief for them financially to participate in lunch. And so Mitch's group, the Food Bank, had fruits and vegetables to give out to families and also did prescreening of food stamps along with us serving lunch, and the Coalition was there to help us as well. And so we need to team together in order to really make a dent in this big problem that we have.

CAVANAUGH: Now, those qualification numbers that you said are way too low for San Diego, do you – this is because it's a federally subsidized program, right? And it's the…

PETILL: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …same across the nation.

PETILL: Yes, it…

CAVANAUGH: What are those income levels?

PETILL: Well, I'll give you an example. If you're a family of five, two parents and three children, you have to be eligible of $33,000.00 to make in order to be eligible for free food. $33,000.00 for a family of…

PETILL/CAVANAUGH: …five.

PETILL: Right. For gas for your car, to make your rent or mortgage payment. We've walked the streets, and we've seen families living in homes together where mattresses were on the floor and people living in cars. It's just incredible. You can't survive on that kind of money. So our organizations are trying to fill the gaps wherever we can, and we've added some great programs at the district as well with our team of 1200 food service passionate employees. And where we have a room service program is called Breakfast in the Classroom that we're reaching…

CAVANAUGH: Excellent.

PETILL: …over 25,000 children a day right now. Over 1.3 million more children ate breakfast at our school district last year.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us a little bit more about that. How do you – How does that program work?

PETILL: Well, this program works at – currently at schools that children eat for free, and we have about 58 of those schools. We've implemented 26 schools last year on top of the 7 that we have, and we'll be expected to have about 55 schools participating. These are elementary schools right now. We just brought our first middle school on. And these children actually bring breakfast to the classroom. There's two children chosen for each class, and they wheel into the classroom and distribute it amongst the students. And we even have a Breakfast Sheriff that inspects at the end of the lunch to make sure that the room is clean. In fact, the rooms are cleaner than they've ever been. But all children participate and they get a healthy meal to start their day. We find children coming in on Monday mornings dehydrated. You know, their food's – they haven't eaten correct meals. We can only reach them during the week for breakfast and lunch, but we all wonder what happens in the evenings and on the weekends.

MITCHELL: It's a great point that he makes. I think last year, Gary, I think we've – We've had a great partnership with the school district. And I want to say in November of '06 – or, in November of '06, we finished a study that talked about what Gary's mentioning, which is the number of kids who go home on the weekend. After Friday – When Friday's – when school gets out and they might not get a meal until Monday morning when they come back and they get breakfast, as Gary's mentioning. And that's a sad state of affairs in San Diego but it's happening more and more these days. You know, it led us to start a Backpack Program where we provide backpacks on Fridays for certain kids who qualify, and it gives them enough food to get through the weekend, and we know it's feeding not just them but their siblings as well, in many instances.

CAVANAUGH: We're inviting you to take part in this conversation. How is the recession affecting you and your family? Are you worried about feeding your family? If you would, share your story and give us a call, we'd really appreciate it, or if you have a question on how to help. The number is 1-888-895-5727. Let's take a phone call. Cindy is calling from Clairemont. Good morning, Cindy. Welcome to These Days.

CINDY (Caller, Clairemont): Hi. I am – I run a school garden program and I'm interested in getting our students involved in helping with the hunger problem. And I'm curious if you accept produce from a school garden, if that would be something that would be of interest?

MITCHELL: Well, you know, normally I would say we would welcome it. The problem we're having right now is we're having a little fruit fly problem and we have been put on restriction. We had – I think we had a press release out last week. The fruit fly problem is really having an impact on the Food Bank. We're now bagging all of our produce, all of our fruits and vegetables, and we've had to stop accepting outside donations until this fruit fly issue is under control. But, you know, again, keep that thought in mind because, hopefully, we'll get through this problem and we would love to have the kids bring the stuff that they're growing down to donate to help out people who are in need.

CAVANAUGH: Yes. Gary.

PETILL: But I have something to say about the school district. I don't know what district your children go to or where the garden is but we have several gardens in our district and I think it becomes an educational model as well about urban gardening and buying local and eating from the earth rather than all the processed foods that a lot of school districts have served for years, and we are certainly away from that now. But maybe encouraging the school that you're at to utilize that produce on a salad bar or at a forum where you can bring children and parents together to explain. Most children don't know where tomatoes and how they grow or potatoes.

MITCHELL: Umm-hmm.

PETILL: They think they grow on trees, and so there's a lot of education that needs to be done on nutrition education.

MITCHELL: There's also the City Heights Farmers Market. They may actually accept your donations and that'd be a good thing for the kids to see.

CRISWELL: Yeah, I was just about to add onto that. Cindy, are you looking at a overabundance where not all of the food that's produced from your garden is being utilized?

CINDY: No, actually it is used.

CRISWELL: Okay.

CINDY: We use it in the classroom and do cooking activities but we were considering planting a plot just specifically for donation for the hungry, and linking that with our curriculum with – our curriculum about immigration and how a lot of families move and immigrate to the United States due to hunger in their country of origin. And so it's just a part of our curriculum and a part of community service that we are looking at an additional plot for that purpose.

CRISWELL: Yeah, those garden programs are great. There's a recent excellent success story in City Heights where San Diego Roots opened up a community garden just off of 54th and, again, recent newcomers to our country who have a closer connection with the land are really making a beautiful garden in that area and producing lots of produce, and that could be another partnership in waiting to happen in terms of being able to share best practices and ideas to move your school garden to the next level. And I'd be glad to share information you offline on how to get in touch with those people.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Cindy, thanks so much for the phone call. Let's take another call now from Allison in Poway. Good morning, Allison, and welcome to These Days.

ALLISON (Caller, Poway): Thank you very much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: How can we help you?

ALLISON: I have a question. My question is revolving – because people are struggling so desperately these days, there may be families that are forced to make some choices in terms of even feeding their pets. I know the elderly especially may have a pet or two in their home, a beloved pet, and if they're – if they have such a great need for assistance, they're having to make a choice between feeding themselves and their pet, are there some organizations and some agencies that offer assistance for those who need it?

CAVANAUGH: You mean like for pet food?

ALLISON: Exactly.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

ALLISON: Exactly, so that they don't have to make that choice between feeding themselves or their pets.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Allison. Mitch.

MITCHELL: You know, I recently saw a news report and I don't know, you or Gary might remember this, that there is an organization here locally that is – that has been set up to try and help people with any food issues they're having with their pets. I would maybe call the Helen Woodward Center and ask them.

CRISWELL: Yeah.

MITCHELL: That's probably the best place to start, and go from there.

CAVANAUGH: That's a very good piece of advice there. I think that is a good place to start. I am speaking with Mitch Mitchell and John Lucero Criswell and Gary Petill. We are talking about September as Hunger Action Month in San Diego, and what the needs are and what level of assistance San Diego can – is providing to people who need it. And we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. We are taking a short break. When we return, we will continue with our discussion on These Days here on KPBS.

# # #

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. September has been designated Hunger Action Month and we're talking about food assistance services in San Diego. I'm speaking with Mitch Mitchell. He's chairman of the San Diego Food Bank. John Lucero Criswell is executive director of the San Diego Hunger Coalition. And Gary Petill is director of Food Services for the San Diego Unified School District. And we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You know, I want to talk about the whole concept, and I think the technical term is food insecurity. Mitch, could you tell us what food insecurity means?

MITCHELL: Well, essentially it's been redefined in this economic crisis a little bit because there are a number – the number of people who are suffering from food insecurity has increased due to the fact that you have adjusted mortgages and the rates that have adjusted. Basically, when you get to a point where every bit of your disposable income—and we are a disposable income driven community and society—when it gets to that point where you can pay for the basics and you then have to start looking at, okay, I have to make a choice, my utilities or food, you start looking for your options, and the – So you have a lot of families right now who, you know, they're barely holding onto their home or their cars, and they have to try and find as much money as they can to buy some groceries but that's where food stamps and that's where, you know, food banks and, you know, the free lunch programs, that's where those things are making a difference to help people who are really suffering from food insecurity.

CAVANAUGH: And, of course, there are all these qualifying numbers and qualifying levels of income and so forth. And during the break, we were talking about, Gary, the fact that the real squeeze comes when people just don't qualify. They're, you know, they're almost at the point where they could get assistance but they just…

PETILL: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …don't qualify. What happens then?

PETILL: Well, those are the people that really hurt. If you miss your income eligibility by a couple hundred dollars, now all of a sudden, you've got to provide food for your children at school and if you can't afford to pay the price, then you have to send your child to school with food and then what do you send them to school with? And is it adequate enough? And what – most cases, we see children just coming, you know, with a half a sandwich and children cannot survive on that. They've got to eat in order to be ready to learn. And that's – that's about it. I mean, it's pretty rough out there and we're doing our best to combat that.

CAVANAUGH: And what about military families in San Diego? Is that a special area of concern?

MITCHELL: We have formed a new partnership with the Armed Services YMCA. They are a new distribution partner. And one of the things that is a secret that most people don’t like to talk about is the fact that we have a number of military families where one of the spouses is deployed and they are struggling tremendously just to make ends meet. And the Food Bank, this partnership has been phenomenal because we're able to help a lot more families but, you know, it goes back to what Gary mentioned earlier, when you look at the numbers – and I think this is something that this community has to look at, is for a family of four, you can make about $29,000.00 in order to be eligible for free lunch.

PETILL: That's right.

MITCHELL: And in the military side, they get what's called a basic allowance for housing, a BAH, and the BAH is what they use to pay the mortgage or the rent and it's equal to what everybody else receives in the country. Well, you tell me if the price of housing in Mississippi or in Kansas or in Texas is the same as it is in San Diego. It isn't. So you have a greater squeeze on these military families as they try and take the BAH and what other little revenue they have coming in and make it work. And, as Gary mentioned, a lot of times they just exceed the number of $28,000 – twenty -- $29,000.00…

PETILL: Right.

MITCHELL: …and then they're on their own. And that's a real problem.

PETILL: Yeah, and I see that being an act of congress that I think that should be a military – Maybe this is a personal thing but it should be a benefit of the military, if you join the military services that your children, at least in the enlisted ranks, get to eat for free in school…

MITCHELL: Yeah.

PETILL: …because it is such a burden when the…

MITCHELL: Cover…

PETILL: …other spouse is out. It really is

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I can see that.

MITCHELL: It's true.

CAVANAUGH: John, I'm wondering, do you also feel that these qualifying income levels are insufficient for California?

CRISWELL: Yeah, absolutely. There's not enough flexibility in the way that poverty level is determined to account for regional variances in cost of living. And, as Gary shared earlier, the income that would qualify for a family of five, when we look at that number of $33,000.00, like, wow, that's…

MITCHELL: Who can live on $33,000.00…

CRISWELL: Yeah, that's…

MITCHELL: …in San Diego?

CRISWELL: …that's not a lot.

CAVANAUGH: With a family.

MITCHELL: Even as an individual.

CRISWELL: And what do they take home with taxes, after that?

MITCHELL: Yeah, after taxes.

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

MITCHELL: And…

CRISWELL: And so the – with respects to how the USDA looks at food insecurity or hunger, they take that poverty line and then they multiply it times 100 and – 1.85 and say, okay, anybody who's living at 185% of the poverty level or below, they're facing a food insecure situation where they really aren't sure how they're going to get all the food they need to keep their family healthy within the next pay period. And it is difficult. And we need to have that number recalculated, recalibrated, to allow for regional cost differences.

CAVANAUGH: Gentlemen, there are a lot of people who want to join this conversation. Let's take some phone calls. Susan is calling us from Hillcrest. And good morning, Susan. Welcome to These Days.

SUSAN (Caller, Hillcrest): Oh, good morning. Thank you for taking my call. I hope I can be coherent. Back in the seventies, my health problems began and I had a nice case worker. I wasn't familiar with any type of programs to assist people when on low income. And I was issued food stamps. I must've signed something without realizing or remembering. And I turned them down because it embarrassed me to use them. Well, last year I finally forgot my pride and I applied and I was told because I was on SSI I didn't qualify. And I was just between two and three dollars of qualifying for Social Security when I got sick. So I was wondering if there was any way that I could possibly get food stamps. I have to have a special diet and I can't eat a lot of things that are on these programs where they assist people with food. And…

CAVANAUGH: Well, Susan, let's find out. Thank you so much for the call. And, John, any words of advice for Susan?

CRISWELL: There is the possibility that you can get food stamps although there are, as you found out, folks that receive SSI sometimes are not able to get food stamps and we're at a – the end of a fiscal year for the USDA and so numbers are being recalculated and some of the – some consideration has gone into the cases just like yours where there's people who need to get food stamps but because they're on SSI they're not qualifying, and they've adjusted some of those income limits. That could mean that you do – I don't want to give you false hope but what I'm going to suggest is that we talk after the show or I give you the phone number for our office and you can talk with one of our staff people who are experts in looking at the tables and figuring out what the numbers are and whether or not you qualify.

CAVANAUGH: Why don't you give us that number right now?

CRISWELL: It's area code 619, 501-5627.

CAVANAUGH: And I was just…

CRISWELL: And then if…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

CRISWELL: …the answer is no then we'll need to partner to come up with other options to cover the bases.

MITCHELL: Well, we'll definitely – we can all definitely, you know, put our heads together to try to help you. Again, your story is not, you know, one where you're alone. There are a number of people in your same situation and this is where, you know, we have to try and work together to overcome these barriers but, you know, her story is one, again, I – This is a time when our legislative leaders need to adjust, I think, both in Washington, D.C. and in Sacramento and, you know, Gary, you made a great point of, you know, if anything, you want to help military families or you want to help people, you look at these income requirements and maybe you raise the bar for the next year and a half because we know unemployment's going to continue to rise, people are going to continue to struggle.

CAVANAUGH: So, Susan, if you don't get any help from getting food stamps, maybe give Mitch a call over at the Food Bank.

MITCHELL: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, Mitch, what kind of programs do you offer for people who have special dietary needs?

MITCHELL: Well, you know, that's – it's something that we're dealing with a lot more these days, is not just – the special dietary needs issue comes up because as we have more people migrating to San Diego who have special – based on their culture, special dietary needs, we're being forced to look at how we're going to address those matters as we move forward. And we can work – Gary and I were just talking about, you know, elder help, Lianne (sic), we can work with a couple of our partners to try and address your dietary needs but that's what we're here for. We have had situations like yours before where we've gone out and put together special boxes so if – again, we're here to help you so if you give Chris Carter at the Food Bank a call. I know he's listening, and he'll take your call and we'll get you – we'll get you scheduled.

CAVANAUGH: And the number is…?

MITCHELL: Is 527 – 858-527-1419.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, great. Let's take another call. Dennis is calling in Spring Valley. Good morning, Dennis, and welcome to These Days.

DENNIS (Caller, Spring Valley): Yeah, good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Hi.

DENNIS: Yes, thank you. I just wanted to share briefly what our organization is doing. We're called the Common Ground Collaboration and we've been in operation for about seven years. We’re a collaboration of three churches here in the Spring Valley – La Mesa, Spring Valley area. And one of the things we do is provide emergency food to students at the – within the school district, the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District. And it's not a great deal of food but it sort of helps to supplement what other is available. And I just wanted to share and encourage other organizations such as churches to get involved in such activity. And it's been very productive. We have also, as one of your guests mentioned, the Backpack Program. We sort of facilitated in bringing one of our sponsor schools, if you will, into that program here in Spring Valley…

CAVANAUGH: Well, Dennis, thanks…

DENNIS: …so we're hooking them up with the Food Bank.

CAVANAUGH: Thanks so much for the call and for sharing that and for the work that other private agencies do to help you guys out, right, Mitch?

MITCHELL: It's great. Again, Dennis, we do appreciate your help with the Backpack Program. As I mentioned, I was appalled at the number of kids who, you know, go through an entire weekend without eating anything. And, you know, the saddest part for us on this program was we had a waiting list almost the first week that we started the program. I think out in Spring Valley, I think one of our sites out there, and El Cajon, we had 70 kids who were on the waiting list to get a backpack on Fridays that we couldn’t serve and the – For people in San Diego, if you think about it, your own children, imagine the number of children who are actually going without something to eat over the course of a weekend.

CRISWELL: Mitch's organization, the Food Bank, does a fabulous job with the Backpack Program but the program costs money.

MITCHELL: Yes.

PETILL: It definitely costs money and I know that at some of the schools that you're at at San Diego Unified, we're able – you're only able to afford to do 25 families at a time of a school that may be a 500 – and how do you choose 25 out of 500 families that are the least of the most needy? You can't because they're all needy. And so we really need help in that and I think, you know, to purchase the backpacks and the fruits and vegetables that come, Mitch, I know you get some donated but, I mean, we do need help on that and I think that we need to expand that effort to send children home on the weekend with a backpack of fruits and vegetables to allow that family to have something healthy to be able to eat over that weekend.

CRISWELL: That is a great example of some of the characteristics of what food insecurity, to use the technical term, or hunger looks like nowadays. We talked earlier about the woman who – the elderly woman who may have to forego prescriptions or feeding their animal to get food, or vice versa if they want to make the decision that way, or kids who may be missing meals over the weekend because they don't have the lunches that they normally take advantage of on – or benefit from during the week, or just parents skipping meals so their…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

CRISWELL: …kids can eat. Those are examples of what it looks like.

CAVANAUGH: Let me just add, we did have a follow-up phone call…

CRISWELL: Okay.

CAVANAUGH: …from the North County Humane Society. They do have people who are having trouble feeding their families and their pets so that's at least one place you can go. The North County Humane Society does provide help. You know, I have a caller on the line who's been waiting for a long time but, you know, she has a question that I think is shared by a lot of people. It's how can she help. And how can people help? I know that part of the – this whole month, Hunger Action Month, is to get more sponsors to support people in the food banks and for all these food assistance programs, so tell us, how can we help, Mitch?

MITCHELL: You know, food drives are a tremendous thing and we've tried to become really creative at the Food Bank in how we generate food drives. The four college campuses, SDSU, USD, UCSD, and Cal State San Marcos, we had our first ever Colleges Rock Hunger event last year, and they were great. We're now looking at something with San Diego Unified, actually. We're trying to pull together a program with Coca-Cola, potentially, that is going to look at utilizing all the high school campuses to generate food drives. And what I tell everybody is, we're one of the easiest organizations to work with because we'll take something out of your pocketbook or out of your pantry. And if you just want to give us time, we have a lot of senior boxes that have to be filled. But how you can help is, if you call us and you want to donate something, whether it's time or food or money, it all goes – you know where it all goes. It all gets put right back in the system immediately. And now, at this point in time, it's necessary more than ever.

CAVANAUGH: We only have about 30 seconds left. What are things shaping up for the holidays? John or Mitch?

MITCHELL: You know, I – we're worried at the Food Bank. As the economists continue to say things are getting better, we're starting to look at the fact that we're going to see that next wave of problems. Military deployments are going up.

CRISWELL: Right.

MITCHELL: We know there's a major decision being made about sending more troops to Afghanistan. That means you'll have more military families at risk. And the other thing is, again, the seasonal jobs that people usually get to make ends meet during the holidays aren't going to be there potentially. And that means you're going to have more people struggling. Mortgages are still struggling. And then the last piece is we're looking at state employees. When you look at the number of state employees who are now being furloughed three days a month, there are a number of them at the bottom of the pay scale who are going to start standing in line to get help and, you know, again, all three of us sitting around here, we know that that new flood of people is coming and, you know, we expect that we're going to be pushed to the limits for the next year.

CAVANAUGH: We have to wrap it up there. I want to thank all my guests. Mitch Mitchell, chairman of the San Diego Food Bank, John Lucero Criswell, executive director of San Diego Hunger Coalition, and Gary Petill, director of Food Services at San Diego Unified. Thank you all so much for talking with us this morning.

MITCHELL: Thanks, Maureen.

CRISWELL: Thanks, it's great to be here.

PETILL: Thanks, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And I'd like to remind everyone that we are going to do a live remote broadcast from Lincoln High School tomorrow to talk about the new semester and everything from budget cuts to student motivation. That is Tuesday, starting at 9:00 right here on These Days on KPBS. And stay with us for hour two coming up in just a few minutes, here on KPBS.

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