Sonoma County food pantries this year have been deluged withrequests from those in need, even while donations are down, reportsthe Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB), making this year's annual fooddrive more important than ever.
According to a recent report released by the Department ofAgriculture, 700,000 children went hungry in the United States atsome point in 2007, up more than 50 percent from 2006. Thosenumbers have hit close to home, with demand for food increasingexponentially at a local level over the past few months. "We'restretched," says David Goodman, executive director of the REFB, thelargest food bank between San Francisco and Oregon. "We can't servethe pantries that operate in every community of the county unlesseveryone pitches in."
In Santa Rosa, the FISH pantry (Friends in Service Here) hasseen increases from 3,500 requests for help per month to over 5,200in the last two years, says FISH's Ron Shirley. It's not just theeconomic downturn, says Shirley; rising food costs play their partas well. "Pasta is up. Rice is up through the ceiling. Cereal isup," he says. "A box of cereal that weighs a pound costs $4. That'sridiculous. People just can't afford to buy what they used to."
Steve Bousshard, a volunteer at Neighbors Organized AgainstHunger in Rohnert Park, notes that their demand has skyrocketed."We were serving 160 to 180 families every week last year," hesays. "Now we're serving from 240 to 280 families—and theseare families with two, three, four and five members."
At the Sebastopol Inter-Church pantry recently, demand was sohigh that volunteers had to stop answering the phone to fillorders. At St. Philip's Church in Occidental, requests for helpamong single men nearly doubled between August and September. It'snot just Sonoma County that's hurting, either; the REFB works withover a hundred similar agencies, providing food to pantries inLake, Humboldt, Mendocino and Del Norte counties.
Luckily, there are numerous ways for people to help. Donationsof nonperishable foods are accepted in REFB barrels locatedthroughout the county at schools, stores and businesses, mostnotably at supermarkets like G&G, Lucky, Whole Foods andSafeway, and other stores such as Friedman's Home Improvement andLongs Drugs. Canned or packaged food only—no homemade food orglass containers.
Cash donations are always accepted, either online atwww.refb.org or by sending a check to REFB, 3320 Industrial Drive,Santa Rosa, CA, 95403. Those wanting to make a donation by phone,or to otherwise get involved by volunteering in the warehouse orstarting a food drive in their area, can call 707.523.7900.
to theeditor about this story.