Have you ever debated which was more essential to your Thanksgiving table—the mashed potatoes or the stuffing? Have you gone without turkey dinner all together? This is the reality facing numerous families in our community. Thanksgiving brings families together to celebrate a bounty of food. For many low-income families, Thanksgiving brings lean fixings as they struggle with the high cost of living in the Bay Area. A recent report released by the California Budget Project stated that in order to meet basic needs including health care, a family of four needs to earn more than $77,000 annually. Most Food Bank recipients live on a fraction of that and are continually faced with harsh choices—food or gas? Food or rent?
Many families have turned to the Alameda County Community Food Bank and rely on a steadfast network of emergency food providers this holiday season. This year, they join 35 million Americans that turned to emergency food assistance, even before gas and milk prices spiked again.
Calls to our food helpline have increased by 46 percent over the past year. The number of single mothers contacting the Food Bank has increased by 60 percent, children account for 37 percent of our client base, seniors make up 14 percent and most families contacting us are working but don’t earn enough to make ends meet.
While our dedicated helpline manager and her group of loyal volunteers refer record numbers of callers to an emergency food bag or hot meal site, a number of our agencies report running out of food. The Food Bank’s food resources were taxed when we started the year. Our inventory, which used to be a robust 2 million pounds, now hovers around a million pounds. This means that more Food Banks like ours rely on community support—during the holiday season and throughout the year.
After the decorations come down, hunger persists and is an ongoing threat to community health that requires long-term solutions. We ask you to help by donating money, food and time to our Food Bank or a nearby emergency food provider. But please don’t stop there. To put an end to hunger, we must work together to advocate for improvements in government nutrition programs, like the Food Stamp and School Meal programs that will help hungry families even when the holidays are over. Please call your State Senator to ask that they pass a new farm bill with substantial improvements to the food stamp program; we ask that you visit our website at www.accfb.org to learn more about hunger and how you can help.
Having enough to eat on Thanksgiving—and the day after—should not be a privilege.
Suzan Bateson is the executive director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank.