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Economy booms but food bank sees spike in local demand

 

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Video: Kathy Jackson, Second Harvest CEO, talks about the local need for food assistance and what Second Harvest does to address it.

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By Kate Bradshaw | Almanac Staff Writer

Second Harvest Food Bank says it distributes more than a million pounds of food across San Mateo and Santa Clara counties each week.

In October, the food bank says experienced its largest demand for food assistance yet. Across every zip code in the two counties, the bank said it served 257,785 people, representing a 6 percent increase from October 2014.

Given the counties' combined population of about 2.7 million people, according to 2014 U.S. census data, that's roughly one in 10 people who seek assistance to feed themselves or their families.

Furthermore, Second Harvest reports that when people do seek food assistance, it's not usually a one-off request. The average recipient of Second Harvest's services gets food assistance 13 times a year, compared to eight times a year at other food banks nationwide, said Kathy Jackson, CEO of Second Harvest.

When the economy grows, hunger should decline, right? That's not what Second Harvest Food Bank has seen, she said.

In a narrative that runs parallel to numbers recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, even in the middle of this Silicon Valley boom time, both median income and poverty rates have increased since the 2010 census.

The poverty rate in Santa Clara County increased to 9.7 percent from 8.4 percent. In San Mateo County, it increased to 7.6 percent from 7.2 percent. That's due, in part, to the fact that rent increases often outpace income increases. Reports for the third quarter of 2015 by "real Answers," published by the Silicon Valley Business Journal, show rents are up 11.5 percent from a year ago in Santa Clara County and 9.5 percent in San Mateo County.

According to Tami Cardenas, vice president of development and marketing at Second Harvest, many of the families Second Harvest serves have jobs, or multiple jobs, but are making minimum wage and having their earnings consumed by rent and gas money, with little left for food.

Families are sharing increasingly tight living conditions and those who might consider relocating to a less expensive area may balk at leaving support networks. For example, multi-generational families in the same household sometimes rely on grandparents or other relatives for childcare, which would be an added expense if they lived somewhere else.

"Folks that we're serving are working families and the working poor," said Ms. Cardenas.

Second Harvest has launched a campaign to raise $15 million over the holiday season, an amount equal to about half its annual budget. It still has about $9.6 million to raise, she said.

The most effective way to give is through monetary donations. Thanks to its partnerships, she said, Second Harvest can provide the equivalent of two full, nutritious meals for $1, which it accomplishes by getting food from two sources. First, it partners with farmers to get produce that's not quite pretty enough to be sold in grocery stores. Second, it works with grocery stores to get produce that is close to its sell-by date. Forty percent of Second Harvest's food donations are fresh produce.

The food bank also works with 330 nonprofit agencies to distribute food to 700 locations such as shelters, pantries, soup kitchens, children's programs, senior meal sites, and residential programs.

Go to shfb.org or call 866-234-3663 for more information. Anyone who needs food should call Second Harvest's multilingual Food Connection hotline at 800-984-3663.

Second Harvest is one of 10 beneficiaries of the Almanac's Holiday Fund.

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