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KPBS Midday Edition

Recession Wolf Appears At Food Bank's Door

How Is The Economy Affecting Both Need And Donations At The Food Bank?
Dr. Lynn Reaser, Point Loma Nazarene University Chief Economist J. Scofield Hage, Executive Director Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank

CAVANAUGH: A holiday food drive kicks off in San Diego. We'll hear how the economy is affecting both need and donations. And fundraisers at the San Diego library foundation scramble to meet a crucial deadline. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, it's Tuesday, November 1st. Our top story on Midday Edition, the Jacobs and Cushman San Diego food bank officially launched its holiday food drive today with the numbers on poverty increasing in San Diego, it's safe to assume there will be families using the food bank this season who've never needed to use it before. But how will the economy affect donations? I'd like to welcome my guests, doctor Lynn Reaser is Point Loma Nazarene university chief economist. Welcome to the show. REASER: Thank you very much. A delight to be here CAVANAUGH: And Scotie Hage is executive director of the Jacobs and Cushman San Diego food bank. Scotie, good afternoon, thank you for doing this. HAGE: Thank you, I'm happy to be able to join in on the conversation this afternoon. CAVANAUGH: Scotie, let me ask you first of all, what is the goal of this year's food drive? How much are you hoping to collect, and just about how many people are you hoping to help out? HAGE: Currently I'm going to answer that question somewhat in reverse order. Today, we are serving about 350,000 average people per month. And the number is increasing tremendously because of the economy, you know, driven by the economy. And the amount of food that we're hoping to bring in for this food drive is close to a million pounds of food. In is the largest single food drive we have going on during the year, and then the second largest one is the postal workers' union food drive that happens in May. So this food drive really ties this over from the end of the year, or the beginning of next calendar year through May when we start bringing in the food from the postal workers. So it's a critical period of time for us, and we have a lot of partners out there who are signing up for food drives. We have over 250 Food Drives already registered. And we expect that will go up probably between now and the end of -- of December by another 500 CAVANAUGH: Doctor Reaser, let me get you into the conversation. I know you spoke at today's kickoff event for the food drive. What was your message? REASER: The message was that the economy is slowly healing in San Diego, but it's still leaving many people behind. Today, we have about one out of every seven San Diegans is below the poverty line. And as Scotie indicated, we're seeing a huge demand for food assistance. It's no longer just the homeless and the chronically unemployed. It's now reaching well into the middle class, many more seniors, and also the military. CAVANAUGH: Now, back in September, we got census data showing that the poverty rate in San Diego County was the highest that it's been in 30 years. When we get numbers like that, doctor Reaser, telling us our poverty rate is up to 14.7% from a low of under 10%, how should a community react to that shift? REASER: Well, I think it's important that we reach out to help those that are in need. We're fortunate in San Diego in still having some very strong parts of our economy, the whole military area, tourism, biotech, IT, international trade. And so we still have people who are employed in good paying jobs, we have successful companies and entrepreneurs. And the good news is that this region has a great sense of community. People who can possibly help do help, and we're hoping again is that they will reach out, particularly in this crucial holiday season. CAVANAUGH: Scotie, give us an idea about how the food bank -- how many people the food bank helps out on a monthly basis has increased in the last couple years HAGE: We are using the bench mark as our fiscal year in June 30th of 2008. Because that was really the beginning of when we really started seeing the impact of this recession. And at that time, we were feeding around 200,000 people on a monthly basis. So that number has grown from 200,000 to 350,000 plus at this point in time. And that year, that fiscal year, we distributed 9.3 million pounds of food. And we -- this year as of June 30th of 2011, that fiscal year was a distribution of about 24 million pound pounds of food. You can see how that escalated over that four-year period of time. And that number is escalating at a steeper climb that we're experiencing right now. CAVANAUGH: Obviously people in San Diego have heard that there's a greater need and have been donating to your food bank, and other food banks in our community. But I'm wondering, is it tougher than it used to be to collect a lot of food because of the economic recession? Are people watching their pennies a little bit more before they give donations? HAGE: We're -- we are very fortunate in the fact that the community has answered our call to help support that growth that we've experienced without the support from the community we could not have increased the distribution as we have. If the donations don't increase, we can't increase the amount of food going out because we are needing that -- those cash donations as well as the food donations in order to supply the hungry in the community. REASER: And Maureen, we're even seeing the support of students. Today we awarded the highest contributing clem to the efforts, and we're seeing the students who are challenged themselves reach out in this drive. That's good news to see the young people in our region coming to the cause. CAVANAUGH: Scotie, can you remind us, I just want to make sure everybody's on the same page here. Remind us how the food bank work, if you would. How often can families and people in need go to the food bank for help? HAGE: Okay. We are really a depostory of food at the food banks warehouse. And we have 350 or more. It changes almost on a daily basis, of other charitable organizations that have signed up on a contractual basis to distribute our food to their constituents. So we actually distribute the food to those charitable organizations, and then those 350 plus charitable organizations end up distributing it to the end user. We have about 153 food distributions going on every month throughout the county that assist in that distribution of food as well as what is picked up at our warehouse by these charitable organizations for distribution. That's really how the food bank works. Once the food is in the hands of those charitable organizations,, the contract says that they give that food to thirds requirement constituents at no cost. And we're talking about organizations as large as rescue mission and the salvation army, you know, the more recognizable ones, all the way through to local churches and synagogues, food pantries, and other smaller organizations throughout the community that are distributing that food. CAVANAUGH: Doctor Reaser, one of the factors that people don't factor in a lot when it comes to how food assistance in our community is not just the fact that people are unemployed and perhaps not making as much money as they used to, they're marginally employed. But the cost of food has gone up. REASER: It has gone up. We've seen the demands from the emerging markets such as China and Brazil, bad weather in different regions, and also crop failures around the world. This has been a hard year for food prices. We've seen them go up between three and a half and four and a half percent. Also gas prices have gone up as we all know, from the Arab Spring, and the unrest in the Middle East. It's been a tough year for everybody in the region. Basically prices have climbed faster than wages, and so a lot of people haven't kept up. So it's been hard for everyone. CAVANAUGH: A lot of -- we've talked a lot about people applying for food stamps? San Diego County, and whether or not that's getting easier to do. But the food assistance, called cal fresh in San Diego San Diego and California, averages about two has a month. And is it possible to feed a family on $200,000 a month? REASER: It's probably very difficult. And that's why we're seeing this huge demand for the food bank products. Of the food bank in San Diego will distribute more than 20 million tons this year. Compared with just 9 million tons 3 years ago CAVANAUGH: Scotie, how does the food bank work to Augustment other sources? Like if somebody is on the cal fresh program? What do people actually receive when they go to the food bank? HAGE: They receive an assort. Of foods, if they're coming in to their organizations to pick up food, it's distributed through the cans or if it's being prepared by, say, a soup kitchen, and they're using that as a source of receiving meals. But the distribution of food ranges all the way from the cans and boxes of cereal, things like that, all the way up to fresh produce. We, this last year, distributed out of the 20 million pounds of food that we distributed last year, in that was included about 6 million pound was fresh produce. The important thing about that fresh produce is that it helps fight child obesity that we see prevalent in our community as well as communities across the country. And when the kids are hungry, they'll eat candy or fast food, anything to fill their belly. But if we can get more fresh produce in their stomachs, we're helping fight that child obesity problem. And at the same time, as far as the seniors are concerned, in some of the senior programs, that fresh produce helps fight diabetes, and some of the other heart ailments that we see in the seniors in the community. CAVANAUGH: Doctor Reaser, you said the economic forecast for San Diego is picking up? REASER: We are actually in a recovery. I know a lot of people have been left behind. But we're expecting to see the addition of about 18 to 20,000 jobs in San Diego County this year. That will be about four times what we saw added in 2010. But still, it means that we're way behind recovering the loss of 60,000 jobs in 2009. The unemployment rate is around 10% in the county. And if you add in all the people who have given up looking for work or are taking part-time jobs, that unemployment rate is closer to 18% CAVANAUGH: So what you're talking about is a slow climb back up. REASER: Slow climb back up. But not fast enough to help a lot of the people who have been left behind. HAGE: And I might add onto that if I may, the fact that once the economy recovers, there's a lag time between the time that it statistically is recovered and people are really becoming fully employed and being able to then sustain what they used to call their normal budget because they have been out of work for so long that they are trying to catch up. So it's not going to be a real fast recovery for families that have been relying upon the services of the food basic, and other services within the community to take care of those people that have been out of work CAVANAUGH: Scotie, tell us where we're going to be seeing these collection bins, and what types of items that you'll be collecting. HAGE: Well, our most wanted list of foods is -- includes canned meats, cereals, rice, beans, peanut butter, nutritious items such as that. And we have -- you'll be seeing our food barrels out in a lot of the grocery store, Vons has started their food driven this week, and starting on the 16th of November, they're going to be preparing prepackaged bags displayed in their grocerily stores, so shoppers can stop and pick up a bag that they already know what the price is, put it in their shopping cart, and then pay for that as they go through the checkout stand, and then drop it in our barrels as they leave the stores. CAVANAUGH: That's a great idea. HAGE: It really is. They started it last year, and it actually tripled the amount of food that came in through those sources. And stater brothers is gonna be involved in our food drive. The grocery stores. And then there are a lot of private businesses that they're doing food dives with their employees, and they have their barrels inside their offices, and it's all of those small food drives up to the big ones like Vons and stater brothers that it makes this a very successful food drive, as long as everybody participate parts and recognizes the need for delivering that food. At the same time many of these places are going to be putting cans out for cash donations to the food bank also CAVANAUGH: Fair enough. Scotie Hage, executive director of Jacobson Cushman San Diego food bank. And doctor Lynn Reaser, Point Loma Nazarene university chief economist, thank you very much. REASER: You're welcome. Thank you HAGE: You're quite welcome. And thank you for having us.

We'll interview Dr. Reaser and J. Scofield Hage on Tuesday's show.

The Jacobs and Cushman San Diego Food Bank officially launched its Holiday food drive today.

With the numbers on poverty increasing in San Diego, it's safe to assume that there will be families using the food bank this season, who have never needed to before. But how will the economy affect donations?