Hunger hits local homes

The San Diego Food Bank is increasingly serving middle class families, and starting last year has encountered a marked increase in the countywide demand for food, said Eugene Mitchell, chairman of the Food Bank Board of Directors.

"The statement I make to people is that there are people looking for support from us today that would not have been in line two years ago. There are people looking for support from us today that would not have been there last year," said Mitchell.

From April to May, the food bank, which is located near UTC, saw overall distribution increase 7 percent. And while more than 50 percent of its food distribution is in the South Bay, San Diego City Council District 1, which includes La Jolla, sees 6 percent of the food bank's resources distributed in its region. Surprisingly, the most significant increases in demand have been in North County inland, despite North County being widely viewed as an affluent part of San Diego.

Although San Diego is thought of as an affluent city, 36 percent of local families can be classified as working or lower middle-class. Military families also often look to the food bank for help because their basic allowance does not go as far in San Diego, where the cost of living is substantially higher, than other parts of the country.

Mitchell said that despite the flagging economy, he has seen an increase in the number of food drives held on behalf of his organization, a trend he hopes will remain steady. He also said that overall "people traditionally forget about hunger between January and October. This is something the food bank is working to change."

The food bank helps a wide variety of people through many different programs, from school nutrition programs for kids to programs for seniors living on a fixed income. The bank's resources come from a combination of donations from individuals, two state contracts and a partnership with Vons that Mitchell described as "phenomenal." When Mitchell first took over as chair of the board in 2006, he contacted Vons and asked for their help in rebuilding his organization. Today, Vons gives the food bank 3 million pounds. The food bank is also looking into forming a similar partnership with Albertsons.

One program that food bank personnel point to with pride is Food for Kids. Started in November of 2006, the program provides food on the weekends to underprivileged school children. During the week, many kids are able to eat breakfast and lunch for free at school. But, according to Mitchell, after an extensive study, the food bank discovered that many kids do not eat more than one meal over the course of the weekend. The program sends backpacks filled with healthy snacks home with kids on Friday afternoons. These often feed not only the children but siblings, as well.

"It's hard to imagine in a county that has zip codes like La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe and the coastal region of North County that you actually have kids that go home on the weekend that don't eat three square meals a day on Saturday and Sunday," said Mitchell. "And I think that's part of the thing that I'm worried about as chair of the food bank right now, is the number of kids that are going to be impacted by this economic crisis."

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