Holidays Bring to Light the Need of NonProfits

By Kristin McFarland
Wednesday November 26, 2008 - 10:37:00 AM

Thanksgiving can easily be a family’s most expensive meal of the year. 

But imagine buying turkey and side dishes for 400 people in a time when prices are up, incomes are down, and donations scarce. Non-profits across the Bay Area are facing increases in need, even as they are suffering from a tumble in donation revenues, and the pinch is felt hardest at the holidays. 

“Our feeding program use is up 30 percent versus a year ago,” said Terrie Light, executive director of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project (BFHP). “Our shelter has no vacancies, ever.” 

BFHP will serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in a community setting to the homeless, former transitional services clients, and any other community members who cannot afford the year’s most extravagant meal. The project has discovered that the local food banks simply don’t have enough to meet their needs, and much of this year’s holiday food expenditures will come out of the organization’s (shallow) pockets. 

Light sent an e-mail Wednesday afternoon saying that this year the Berkeley Food and Housing Project had so far managed to fill only 30 of the 60 requests for food boxes for clients who were permanently housed and in need of assistance to cook a Thanksgiving meal. Those willing to help can contact Light at 649-4965 ext. 307 or at 2140 Dwight Way. 

In its annual price survey, the American Farm Bureau Federation reports that Thanksgiving dinner is “still affordable,” but while a 6 percent ($2.35) increase for a meal serving 10 may not hurt an affluent family, that price smarts when multiplied by 40 or more. The price of turkey alone has increased by 8 percent, and Light said that they simply aren’t receiving as many donations. With food banks also struggling, BFHP must make up the difference. 

“We’re in uncharted waters in terms of need,” said Brian Higgins, media contact for the Alameda County Food Bank. Higgins reports that use of the food bank’s food helpline, which connects callers with emergency food programs in their area, is up 39 percent from last year and 59 percent from the year before. The helpline now sees hundreds of first-time callers every week. 

That’s on top of the 40,000 people in Alameda County already receiving aid from the food bank on a weekly basis. 

“We’re hearing from people who have never made that call before, households where both parents are working,” Higgins said. “It’s a choice between rent and food.” 

In addition to increased need, the food bank is “in critical need of monetary donations,” Higgins said. Over the past few years, the number of donations has been going down. 

“But donations are only a little piece of the puzzle; it’s how many people need food that really makes a difference,” Higgins said. 

The holidays make a family’s lack of funds hurt far more keenly and place a greater toll on food service agencies than the rest of the year. 

“We get a lot of requests for help in the holiday seasons, and this year we will probably have to tell people that we can’t help,” Light said. 

Monetary donations can be made to the Alameda County Food Bank online at www.accfb.org/how_to_help.html and the Berkeley Food and Housing Project at http://bfhp.org.