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KPBS Midday Edition

Getting Food To Needy San Diegans

More San Diegans need help to get enough food.
Guests: Jennifer Gilmore, executive director, Feeding America San DiegoScody Hage, CEO, San Diego Food Bank

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. In the last few year, many of us have settled into a new normal for holiday shopping. We've cut back on the glitz and spend only enough to make the season special for friends and family. One way some people have cut back is on donations to charities. The problem with that is the demand is increasing in San Diego. And some food and toy collections are a little nervous about filling that demand this year. Joining me to talk about holiday food drives are my guests, Jennifer Gillmore is executive director of feeding America, San Diego. Jennifer, welcome to the show. GILLMORE: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure. CAVANAUGH: Scody Hage is CEO of the Jacobs Cushman San Diego food basic. It's good to speak with you, Scody. HAGE: Thank you. It's wonderful to be here. CAVANAUGH: And we invite our listeners to join this conversation. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Jennifer, tell us a little something about feeding America, San Diego. GILLMORE: Feeding America, San Diego, is a food bank as well as we run a number of programs to meet the needs of hungry San Diegans. We distribute about 18 million pounds of food annually, and reach approximately 73,000 individuals every week. CAVANAUGH: Where does the food that you collect go? GILLMORE: All of our food comes from outside of San Diego County. Am we receive it because we're part of a national affiliation with feeding America. And then we distribute our food to about 200 nonprofit organizations. Then we run a mobile pantry program so we can get food out to those food deserts. Then we distribute food directly to some of those students who are struggling with hunger. CAVANAUGH: What is a food desert? GILLMORE: It's an area where there are limited stores, but more importantly for us, there's limited access to emergency food pantry. What we were able to do through the generosity of Ralph's and craft, is get that food out to an area where we're greeted in a parking lot, and distribute food to about 200 families ata time. CAVANAUGH: And Scody, Jason Cushman's food basic, we've had representatives of the food bank on a number of occasions. Give us a quick idea about your operation. HAGE: Our operation today is feeding over 350,000 people on a monthly basis. We have local market, Vons, stater brothers, and sprouts is joining in on giving us food out of their operation. We receive food through our holiday food drive that's been going on since the first of November and will go through the end of the year. We're hoping to receive as much as a million pounds of food in that food drive that will tide us over into the new year, we're seeing that the food coming in from that food drive today is being sorted through and spun right back out into the community. CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you, how is the holiday food drive going so far? HAGE: It's going very well. The numbers are up. I don't have exact volumes. But we can tell by the number of barrels that are coming in and being recycled through the community, and the number of food drives that we're handling today, compared to that same time period in the holiday food drive last year, we can see that the numbers are up. But it's again, as I say, it's being redistributed out into the hungry community almost as soon as it comes through our warehouse, which is a major change in what we've seen in the past. CAVANAUGH: So has it even changed since last year? HAGE: Yes. CAVANAUGH: I see. So the demand has increased noticeably in one year? HAGE: Absolutely. CAVANAUGH: And Jennifer, is that your -- what you've been finding also? GILLMORE: Now four years ago we distributed 4 million pounds of food. This year, we'll distribute 18 to 20 million. It's been a combination of increased demand, and we're not seeing -- and it's been consistent. We started the week of the wildfires in 2007, and honestly it has felt like we've been operation in disaster mode since then because of the unemployment rate, the number of foreclosures, and families are just having a real hard time staying on their feet. The other thing that's happening is folks who are needing assistance used to be that they needed it for, maybe, six months until they got back on their feet. But they're needing it for longer periods of time. So all of our resources are being really tapped right now. CAVANAUGH: Jennifer, you were quoted in a recent KPBS news story as saying that you've been contacted by several of your long-time donors who said that they were unable to give anything this year. GILLMORE: It's absolutely true. And it's heartbreaking. We had -- I just received another letter just before Thanksgiving. And the donor notified me that this was unfortunately going to be one of her last gifts for a period of time, that her income has shrunk, and why she wants to give, she's having trouble keeping food on the table herself. And that to me is a concern. Because we have another person who's in need of assistance, but we're also losing one of our truly valuable donors. And we need every dollar these days. CAVANAUGH: Have you had any similar experience? HAGE: Yes, it's interesting. In 2008, we distributes about 9.1 million pounds of food. Then next year, 11.3, 15.3, and this last year our total distribution was about 24.4 million pounds of food. You can see how over that four-year period of time distribution has gone up. And we're now seeing families coming in to our warehouse who are now volunteering time, and they used to be donors to the food bank. CAVANAUGH: They used to be giving you money or food. HAGE: Yes, yes. Both money and food. And now today, they're standing in our lines for food and sense they have the time on their hands, they're coming in and volunteering time to sort through the food, which is a great help to us because we need those volunteers to help out both in the warehouse as well as out in the community at our distribution center. CAVANAUGH: But it's a staggering change. HAGE: It is. CAVANAUGH: We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. I'm asking if you're planning to giving to a charity or not this holiday season. Or if you're a member of someone trying to do some toy and food collections, you can tell us how it's going. Again, that's 1-888-895-5727. Belinda is on the line from San Diego. And good afternoon, Belinda. Thank you for calling. NEW SPEAKER: Sure. Thank you for answering. CAVANAUGH: What can we do for you? NEW SPEAKER: Actually, I'm the incline coordinator, which means I deal with toys at Reidy children's hospital. And actually, it's kind of interesting. Ed inially, our donations are down, however, corporate donations in terms of toy drives has really increased this year for us. So I mean -- I just thought it's kind of interesting, in terms of items rather than money. CAVANAUGH: Exactly. So what was that again? Your actually donations are up, but the donations from individuals are down? NEW SPEAKER: So in terms of corporate, corporations and companies having toy drives and donating unused toys to us, that seems to be up this year. CAVANAUGH: I see. NEW SPEAKER: However, individual, just an individual donating a toy, that seems to be down. CAVANAUGH: That's interesting. Thank you for the call. You know, when we're talking about food, we hear about food insecurity. And I think that that term is bandied around a lot without being very specific about what that means. Jennifer, does that mean an individual or a family really does not have enough food or doesn't know where the food is going to come from to get through the week? GILLMORE: That can mean a number of different things. But when you distill it down, it means they're facing -- it's food insecurity. They don't know exactly where their next meal is coming from. There's an insecurity about it. And it's not only the quantity of the food, it's the quality of the food. So they're having to make choices of taking less nourishing product or food and feeding it to their kids. It's higher in calorie, maybe lower in -- taking away the protein items. They're doing without fresh fruits and vegetables, and we're seeing the ramifications of that as a society with chronic obesity, heart disease, diabetes. So it's really a very, very pressing issue. CAVANAUGH: What about kids? Do they fair any better than adults because of school lunch programs? HAGE: The school lunch programs are helping feed the children during the school week. But at the end of the week, many of these children have a challenge at home. And most of those children that are participating in the low fee or no fee feeding programs at school in the elementary schools would not have another meal until they come to school on Monday morning. So we have our food for kids program where this year, we are -- we have 29 schools that are participating in that where we deliver a backpack full of food for the children to take home with them who are participating in the program, total of about 11025 children this year. On the program. And these children are taking that food home with them to tie them through the weekend. And we know that their siblings and some of their family members are benefiting from that also. CAVANAUGH: We have done a number of programs about San Diego's participation in the food stamp program now known as cal fresh program. And how that hasn't really -- it's the low evaporate participation of any urban center across the United States. But how county officials have been working to improve that. I know that the food bank helps people sign up if they qualify for cal fresh. Does feeding America do that as well? GILLMORE: Yes, we do. Absolutely. CAVANAUGH: And I'm wondering, I think sometimes people hear it this and don't understand. Just because someone is on the cal fresh program that is correct doesn't mean all of their food issues are solved, does it? GILLMORE: Not at all. And in fact, there's a huge growing population of San Diegans who earn too much to qualify for cal fresh or for the federal nutrition programs. However are still considered food insecure. They're still struggling. And 67% of everyone feeding America San Diego serves in fact has one person working full time in the household. So the new face of hunger are these families who earn too much. And so that's why the donated food is so critically important, because it can be distributed to anybody who's in need regardless of how much they're earning. CAVANAUGH: Exactly. We've been talking, Scody, about the new face of people showing up at food banks who need food assistance. What can you tell us about that? HAGE: Well, are the face of hunger has changed considerably. As I indicated before, we're seeing people coming into the food bank who used to donate to us and are now receiving the benefits. The cal fresh program is so important, but as Jennifer says, a lot of these families don't qualify for that. There are 446,000 people today in San Diego County who are at or below the federal poverty level. And those are those who are really looking to take benefit of these programs. 60% of our business is through two California state administered programs which are USDA funded with food. And those programs have been growing, but with the federal budget cuts that are looming we're not sure how far that's going to go as far as feeding people. CAVANAUGH: And there is legislation that I believe has passed the House of Representatives to cut funding for food banks; is that right? HAGE: That is correct. And now it's basically up to the supercommittee to work through what the House has recommended. And there are -- the two sides are not getting together. So it may come down to the cuts that will automatically go into effect next year after the first of the year, if the supercommittee doesn't make some decisions. And we don't know at this point in time how that's going to impact us other than the fact that we have seen already a reduction in some of the fresh produce that's coming through those programs already this year. CAVANAUGH: When I was younger, years ago, when we were talking about holiday food drives, the idea was that there would be some needy families and they would receive perhaps a package. And you'd ring their door bell, and here's your Christmas meal or here's your Thanksgiving meal. It sounds to me at this point that the need has grown to such an extent that that kind of approach is impossible now. GILLMORE: You know, we're trying to just make -- meet the incredible need. Having said that, everybody loves the idea of being able to provide a family with a holiday Turkey and all of the fixings, and there's something that is just -- we all want to do that. That's a part of what America is about. And so one of the things that feeding America San Diego has been successful in doing is our holiday food basket program. We can pull those Turkeys and the stuffing and the mashed potatoes together and get them to some of the families so they can have that traditional meal. CAVANAUGH: And Scody, you as well? Or is it just too much of a demand? HAGE: The demand is incredible at this point in time. And it all depends on what supplies we have in the warehouse at any given time. We had run out of Turkeys until the last minute before Thanksgiving, and we had some frozen Turkeys come in, and we were able to in turn get those back out into the community for Thanksgiving. But the -- putting together a Thanksgiving meal out of the food distribution network that we have is very difficult. We try to get the pieces out that need to go. But in some cases, the supply has just been too short to be able to make a major impact. CAVANAUGH: Here's my last question. What can we do? What can we listeners do to help fill this increasing demand that both of you are experiencing? HAGE: I would say that with the food drives going on within the community today, the community needs to stop by the stores that are involved in these food drives. There are businesses that are putting on food drives with their employees and their families. There are a number of -- we have probably over 350 to 400 Food Drives going on right now within the community. So it's to donate food through those food drives. Dial into our Internet and on our web page, we have a virtual food drive with people can donate cash that basically is feeding those food drives as well as volunteer time at the local food banks. CAVANAUGH: And Jennifer? GILLMORE: I would encourage everybody to visit We have a page, and all the ways people can become engaged this holiday season. And I would encourage people to remember that hunger knows no season. To keep our neighbors and friends in community who are struggling, one in five, in fact, with hunger. Keep them in mind after the holidays as well. CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both very much. Gener in Gillmore ever feeding America, San Diego, Scody Hage of the Jacob Cushman's food bank. Thank you. GILLMORE: Thank you. HAGE: Thank you.

Many people have settled into a new normal for the holiday season. It's just not as big or expensive. Everything from gifts to holiday meals are tamped down a bit. The problem is that another area of Holiday giving is seeing a cut-back. Some San Diego charities say donations of food and toys are not keeping up with increased demand.

How You Can Help

The San Diego Food Bank and Feeding America San Diego, along with many other local charities and churches, offer volunteer opportunities for both individuals and businesses. Contact the organizations to find out what you can do to help.