For Food Banks, Business is Too Good

Brother, can you spare a can?

I have friends who work in food pantries, here in KC and around the country. They and their colleagues all are seeing the same thing — fewer donations to fill the shelves and more needy families looking for food. Harvesters, a food bank clearinghouse that supplies food pantries across the Kansas City metro area, said this back in October:

The number of people requesting emergency food assistance is increasing at a rate we have never seen before. Historically, we distribute 6% more every year—until this year. Since the beginning of 2008, we have seen a 30% increase in the number of pounds of food we have distributed. Based on a survey of our network pantries and kitchens, the demand for emergency food assistance is currently up 50% and is continuing to rise.

Meanwhile, donations from businesses, religious groups, community groups, and individuals are all way, way down, as everyone’s money is tighter and harder to come by.

It’s not just Kansas City. It’s Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It’s Washington, DC. It’s St. Louis, Missouri. It’s San Jose, California and the whole SF Bay area. It’s Anchorage, Alaska. It’s Columbia, South Carolina. It’s Honolulu, Hawaii. It’s Los Angeles, California. It’s all around, including your back yard, too. Don’t believe me? Pick a city at random, go to the local newspaper’s website, and search for stories with terms like "food bank" and "food pantry." Food banks everywhere are seeing a business that is far too brisk for anyone’s liking.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, though, things are also taking a new and even more painful twist.

Last week, one of my food bank friends told me that she was delighted when she saw a car pull up into their parking lot. "Oh, good! It’s one of our regular delivery folks!" she thought, recognizing that the car belonged to a man that regularly brought a big load of food every month from his workplace’s food drive. She went out to meet him with a big smile on her face, to help unload the food. When he saw her coming, though, he shook his head from side to side. "No, I’m not here to deliver food, but to pick some up. You see, our business went under, and I’m out of work now . . ."

Those who work in food pantries get used to the pain of those in need who come to them for help. But when they see their donors becoming clients . . . those are the stories that seem to hurt the worst.

If you are in a position to help fill up a neighborhood food pantry’s shelves, please pick up some extra food at the grocery store and drop it off. My food bank friend, her colleagues in other food bank, and the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people they serve will be very, very grateful.

Photo h/t: Manchester Library

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