MARTINEZ (KCBS) – A record number of Americans can’t afford to put enough food on the table to feed their families. And a surprising number of them are suburban, middle class, and employed. It’s what’s known as the “new hungry,” and it’s become a disturbing trend in the Bay Area.
Doug Sovern Reports in the KCBS Cover Story:
The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties is feeding more than 130,000 people a month now, which is up 30 percent in the last two years.
“It’s just phenomenal the number of folks coming to us, and the service that we have to provide,” said food bank Executive Director Larry Sly, who presides over a Costco-like warehouse in Concord.
The facility ships out canned beans and sacks of potatoes, increasingly, to middle class families, who have never known hunger before.
“We get people coming into our places who tell us that a year ago they had a six-figure income but the company downsized, they got laid off, and nothing has happened in a year,” said Sly.
One in seven Americans is now on what used to be called Food Stamps, it’s now known as SNAP. Many of them have never asked for a handout before.
“It’s really humiliating,” said Sly. “We get people who are totally embarrassed because they say, ‘I’ve worked my whole life and supported myself. I’m an up-from-my-bootstraps type of person, and now I’ve got to go ask for help.’ So we really try to do the best we can to make it as dignified an operation as possible.”
There’s nothing humiliating about it to Charlotte Robinson, an occasionally employed teacher in Martinez. She brings her 13-year-old son Armando to eat hot lunches at the Loaves And Fishes food program at the First Baptist Church.
“Pride goes out the door when you’re hungry,” said Robinson. “You don’t really worry about who is going to see you or what you’ve got on. I notice people coming in here in suits, or working clothes. Just about anybody is welcome.”
Robinson spends so much money on gas and tolls, driving around looking for work, that she depends on the program for free groceries to feed her son.
“If you need bags of food you can just knock at the door and they’ll give you bags of food,” said Robinson. “They will not turn you down here.”
Larry Sly says the spread of suburban hunger has one silver lining that more people realize it could happen to them so they’re giving generously enough, that the food bank can meet the growing need.
“We’re keeping up with it, but we’re running fast,” said Sly.
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