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Redwood Empire Food Bank continues to feed surge of struggling North Coast residents

David Goodman, CEO of Redwood Empire Food Bank, runs the largest food bank in Northern California, serving Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

With the cost of groceries surging and causing financial hardship for some consumers trying to rebound from the pandemic, The Press Democrat checked in with the top manager of the area’s biggest food bank to see if there’s been a coinciding jump in requests for food assistance.

Here is a condensed and edited version of the conversation.

Q: Are more people coming for food giveaways because they can no longer afford higher grocery prices?

A: Costs for many things are increasing and each one is a driver of food insecurity. Many people continue to suffer as a result of the pandemic, some have accumulated a great deal of personal debts. Many people are having to make difficult decisions to stretch their household budget.

Q: Can you quantify the need for food in the area?

A: Over the past year, we have distributed $66 million worth of food since the pandemic began, an 80% increase from the year before. That equates to 26.6 million meals in our latest fiscal year. In 2019, we distributed 14.7 million meals. To better understand the volume of food we gave away in a year since the pandemic began, I tell people it would be enough to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to a sellout crowd (41,915 people) at San Francisco Giants’ stadium for an entire season and through the playoffs and World Series.

Q: How many people are you serving?

A: Before the pandemic it was an estimated 82,000 people. Now it’s an estimated 100,000 people. People often think of Redwood Empire Food Bank and they think it’s for giving food to the homeless, but they are only a small fraction. A large amount of people in Sonoma County — an estimated 1 in 6 — need food assistance. You don’t have to be homeless to be food insecure or hungry. People would rather be hungry and housed than well-fed and homeless. In deciding where they have flexibility, people realize they can’t negotiate the price at the gas station, but they cut back on buying food and eat less. Then eventually they come to us.

Q: Were there any positives gained in this pandemic regarding food insecurity?

A: People recognize it could have been them. Suddenly, they knew somebody in need of food. That’s created a lot of empathy in the community. It’s one of the silver linings.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Bomberger at 707-521-5246 or paul.bomberger@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BiznewsPaulB.

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