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Food Banks: Fending off hardship

  • Joel Huckeba, 17, left, and Ryan Gurney, 16, unload broccoli with other members of the group "Tomorrows Leaders Today" at the Redwood Food Bank. (Beth Schlanker / Press Democrat)

The goals for Redwood Empire Food Bank's annual campaign, the Winter Food & Funds Drive, are larger than ever because of rising needs by local families and seniors, officials say.

By Jan. 31, the food bank hopes to collect 225,000 pounds of food and $165,000 in cash, said David Goodman, executive director of the nonprofit organization started in 1987.

A year ago, the agency “came close” to collecting 200,000 pounds of food and $155,000, he said.

Demand keeps increasing, as it does for government-issued food stamps and for free food provided by FISH of Santa Rosa, an all-volunteer food pantry that serves over 5,000 people a month.

“There are always new people coming in,” said Dennis Hansen, deputy director of FISH.

The signs of need are in the numbers: The food bank, which distributes nearly 12.6 million pounds of food a year, serves 78,000 people a month, an 11 percent increase from 2009's 70,000 a month, Goodman said.

Ten years ago, the food bank gave food to about 30,000 county residents every month, he said.

FISH, which stands for Friends In Service Here, has seen a 30 percent increase from 50,000 people served in 2007 to 65,000 in 2009, Hansen said. Demand for the first 10 months of this year is the same as last year, he said.

FISH gave away almost 600,000 pounds of food last year, 80 percent of it donated by local farms, grocery stores and other sources.

FISH also is one of the 147 food pantries and relief organizations that obtain supplies from the food bank.

The number of households receiving food stamps has nearly doubled from 7,008 in September, 2007 to 13,772 this September.

Food stamp applications have increased 60 percent in the past year, said Marion Deeds, director of the county Human Services Department's economic assistance division.

“For many people, their own personal recession hasn't ended yet,” Deeds said, noting household hardships have continued long past the recession's official end in June, 2009.

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