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Will food banks need a bailout?

November 19, 2008

Job losses and rising costs for food and housing are driving up demand for emergency meals from charities and food pantries around the United States. But donations aren’t keeping up.

Demand in the Los Angeles area has risen 41 percent from a year ago, said Michael Flood, president and chief executive at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.

The food bank currently provides the equivalent of 560,000 meals a week to local charities, said Flood. Compared with last year, the LA Food Bank is delivering 33 percent more food to the 875 charitable agencies it serves, but that’s still falling short of need by 8 percent.

Such supply and demand imbalances are being seen around the country as the economic downturn triggered by the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression is also resulting in fewer donations from companies and individuals.

“It’s ironic and sad that in this land of plenty, so many people have to make due with so little,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

In 2007 — before the economy took a sharp turn for the worse — some 36.2 million Americans, or 11.1 percent of households, struggled to get enough food to eat. About one-third of the people in that group went hungry from time to time, according to a report issued this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

“This is a problem that is only going to get worse,” Fielding said of the nation’s growing hunger issues. “Things are moving rapidly in the wrong direction as we get more unemployment.”

U.S. jobless claims, which hit a seven-year high of over 500,000 last week, are expected to continue to rise and the newly unemployed are among the new faces seen at food pantries.

“More people are reaching out for help, including many middle-class families who are experiencing tough times because of the declining economy,” Flood said. “Our challenge is helping local pantries to continue serving the growing number of people seeking assistance.”

“There is no easy solution,” said Fielding. “It’s likely that we are going to need help at a national level to deal with this crisis.”

(Photos: LA Food Bank, Reuters)

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