East Bay food pantries are distributing more food now than ever before and report a higher need for community support, according to a study performed by Alameda County Community Food Bank. The results, released Thursday, show that out of the food bank’s 221 network agencies surveyed, most are approaching capacity and nearly all report significant barriers to expanding business, which may eventually force them to turn away people in need.
Communications manager Michael Altfest said Thursday that a 2010 Hunger Study showed that the Food Bank was feeding 49,000 clients per week. One out of six residents in Alameda County, about a 250,000 people, turned to volunteer food services in the same year, according to Altfest. The study, which is conducted every four years, is now seeing a drastic increase in these numbers for its next report.
Food pantries are citing limited cold storage, a lack of overall storage space, and insufficient funds to purchase more food as major roadblocks in meeting the growing demand for their services.
While the rest of the country has moved past the financial crisis, food bank member agencies continue to serve a higher number of clients each year, with 64 percent reporting an increase for 2012. This is especially challenging since these agencies are almost entirely staffed by volunteers.
Altfest said that food agencies are fortunate to be able to benefit from the strong sentiment of holiday donations, but that these only carry so far. “At the end of the day, hunger doesn’t take a vacation,” said Altfest.
Every year, the food bank distributes 24 million pounds of food to their agencies, 75 percent of which depend on these donations because they make up over half of the food that they serve.
The looming March 1 budget cuts could shrink unemployment benefits by almost 10 percent, affecting 3.8 million Americans who receive unemployment checks every week, according to CNN.
Since government food safety net programs have wavering support and uncertain futures, agencies of the food bank look towards community support now more than ever to keep their already effective systems running. Alameda County has received hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to safety-net programs that contribute to the consistently growing lines outside of these agencies.
The food bank is spearheading an initiative for 2013, calling out for food donations and funds, volunteer at various agencies, and advocate to stop government cuts and begin to reinvest in food safety net programs. Learn more about this growing need and find out how you can help at accfb.org.