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Recession Sparks Increased Demand at Food Banks

More People Turning to Food Bank for Help

When people make a run on a bank, it’s usually to get their money out. But there’s been a different bank run of sorts in San Diego over the past few months. An increasing number of people are turning to the area food banks to try and get by after losing their jobs. KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr takes a look at what that means for people needing help. It’s part of our ongoing series, “Rough Water: Navigating San Diego’s economy.”


Large, boxy buildings line wide streets in a suburban San Diego industrial park. It’s a place where you’re more likely to see a tractor trailer than a crowd of people. But recently hundreds of people stood in the cool morning waiting to enter the San Diego Food Bank’s warehouse. Not only was there a big crowd, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made an appearance, as did a couple of Chargers players. But the main reason people were there was to get free food. Omni Milner was among them.

“I work in retail so right now our hours are really impacted. Right now we’ve been cutting down to half. Some started with 40, now they’re getting 20 hours a week,” she says.

Inside the warehouse were some were military families who weren’t making enough to get by. Others where there after being suddenly laid off. Jennifer Perkins is a Food Bank Board Member. She says it’s a story that’s becoming more common. Perkins says when people show up at food distribution events, they’re usually in shock.

“They begin to scrimp and save and ultimately they realize you’ve got to make the car payment because you have to have transportation because you have to have transpiration to get to job interviews. You have to make the rent or mortgage payment because you have to have some place to live. So what starts to go when you’ve cut through all of your discretionary funding? It’s the food,” she says.

The situation is real for Perkins because she just lost her full time job. She says she’s lucky however because she has savings that will help her get by. Others are not as lucky. She says many of the stories she’s hearing have similar threads.


“Maybe mom has lost her job and dad has a mandatory furlough. Maybe they have kids in school and they have kids in school. Or, worst case scenario, both parents have lost their jobs,” she says.

Perkins says the Food Bank can see the increased need in its distribution numbers. In the beginning of last year El Cajon handed out roughly 76 thousand meals for families. By the end of the year demand was up by half. In the city of San Diego demand jumped by 22 percent during the same period. Feeding America San Diego, the region’s other food bank, is seeing an increased demand as well. That agency distributed a record amount of food in March. Joel Berg is an advocate for the hungry who’s written about the problem. He says the recession is hitting working people hard and driving many of them to seek food assistance.

“But it’s not stockbrokers. It’s the people who were security guards in Wall Street firms. It was the people driving their cars. It’s the people taking care of their children who may have been laid off. So it was the lower middle class people who were barely getting by before who now just can’t get by,” he says,

Officials at both food banks estimate hundreds of thousands in the region are going to need their help this year. While more people won’t be able to afford food, Berg says people going hungry isn’t new.

“Even before the economic downturn, there were 25 million Americans forced to use soup kitchens and food pantries. So sometimes, frankly, the media’s giving the impression now the problem is only now important because formally middle class people are having a problem. When in truth this is has been a problem for years impacting tens of millions of Americans, most of whom are working,” he says.

As the recession continues, it’s likely more people will find themselves without work and needing assistance. Food bank officials say they’ve got limited resources to deal the increased demand. But the food banks’ situation pales in comparison to the hard decisions many people will make around their kitchen tables during these uncertain times.

Katie Orr, KPBS News.