Food banks struggle to feed needy families - East Valley Tribune: News

Food banks struggle to feed needy families

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Posted: Saturday, December 13, 2008 5:34 pm | Updated: 8:41 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Sally Heneley has been ringing a bell for the Salvation Army for six years. In years past, she said, people freely gave a dollar or two. This year: nickels and dimes.

Center sees wealthier people seeking help

“The economy really hit us hard,” she said, though she’s trying to stay optimistic. “It might pick up.”

But Salvation Army Maj. Doug Danielson said the prospects don’t look good.

While the amount of people asking for aid from the Salvation Army in Phoenix has risen 60 percent from last year, he said there’s been marginal change in fundraising.

“We have on occasion run short on food and funding,” Danielson said.

The needy rely on the food banks in tough times, but food banks are now in their own state of emergency, said Donna Rodgers, director of resource development at the United Food Bank in Mesa.

“People are asking for food that we can’t give them because we don’t have it,” she said.

United Food Bank collects donations and distributes them to social service organizations throughout Maricopa, Gila, Pinal, Apache and Navajo Counties.

They routinely fall short of the need — their work is never done, she said — but this year it’s especially bad.

During the first quarter of fiscal 2007, the United Food Bank was asked for but couldn’t deliver 618,000 pounds of food. Rodgers said during the same time this year, the bank was short nearly one million pounds.

Meanwhile, Rodgers said United Food Bank’s costs have risen, too — as much as 45 percent just this October.

“We’re getting hit on both ends,” she said.

And smaller food banks are being hit just as hard.

Mike Boos, director of Paz de Cristo, a charity to which United Food Bank delivers, said his financial donations are down 25 percent.

Meanwhile, expenses like fuel, electricity and equipment are rising.

“I don’t know how we’re going to make it up,” he said, adding that he’ll probably have to scale back some services if this trend continues.

Cutbacks are a reality most food banks are facing, said Ginny Hildebrand, executive director of the Association of Arizona Food Banks.

The need for emergency food boxes has risen by 72 percent this year , she said.

To be able to accommodate the most families, the contents of the supplies that are meant to see families through up to five days have been reduced to only three day’s worth, she said.

Last year Arizona food banks were getting about 10 million pounds of food donations every month, Hildebrand said.

“In order to meet the level of demand we’re seeing now, we would have to get as much as three to four million pounds of food more (per month),” she said.

Rodgers said it’s too lofty a need for the public to fulfill.

“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but we need more,” she said. “The level that they’re helping is not enough for the demand.”

Rodgers said volunteering to pick up bulk food donations would be more helpful. Too often, a large donation goes uncollected because there’s nobody to pick it up.

And to maximize help, Hildebrand said, people should forego donating food this year and instead donate money. Whereas $1 could buy one or two cans of food, her organization can buy bulk and stretch the dollar to pay for nine pounds of food.

Still, food banks aren’t a long-term solution, Hildebrand added.

“The food banks are a band-aid,” she said.

An end to the recession is the only way to alleviate the burden on both the banks and the public. But with no end in sight, Rodgers said, optimism is hard to come by.

“I’d hate to think what would happen if it went on too long-term,” she said. “If things don’t change, we’re heading into a serious crisis.”

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