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Unemployment drives up demand at Sonoma County's food bank

  • Vanessa Nunez, 3, left, and Samantha Nunez, 8, right, eat at the summer lunch program held by Knox Presbyterian Church on Wednesday. (CRISTA JEREMIASON/The Press Democrat)

Some 70,000 Sonoma County residents seek hunger relief every month from the Redwood Empire Food Bank, an increase of about 20,000 people over two years.

And an ever-larger portion are without work and more people are cramming into households, according to an annual food bank survey.

“There are more people in households relying on fewer incomes,” said David Goodman, executive director of the food bank. “We know that people are either losing jobs, are under-employed or not capable of finding work, period.”

The number of county residents needing help to feed themselves and their families rose 20 percent in 2008, and another 20 percent in 2009 when 70,000-a-month sought aid. That demand has continued through this year, according to the agency.

At a food bank pantry hosted every Thursday by Knox Presbyterian and Resurrection Church in west Santa Rosa, the number of people who line up from 4 to 5 p.m. for a grocery bag of food has grown dramatically.

“Before, the lines weren't so long,” said Angelica Rodriguez of Santa Rosa. Now, “you have to get here early, because if you arrive after 5 the doors are closed; they run out of food.”

Rodriguez, her three children and a cousin visited a summer lunch program Wednesday at the church, one of many hunger initiatives the food bank spearheads with more than 146 local groups. The daily program fills the gap left by the absence of a school lunch program during the summer.

Rodriguez said her husband, a roofer, has been working far fewer hours than he did two years ago. He mostly does repair work and is home by early afternoon, she said.

“From January to May, he had no work at all,” she said, adding that it was the first time in the 16 years he's been working as a roofer that he went that long without work.

The food bank's survey, titled Hunger in Sonoma County 2010, was conducted during the first four months of 2009, part of larger study that involved 185 food banks across the country. Staff and volunteers from the local food bank interviewed 357 food recipients at food pantries, emergency kitchens and shelters.

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