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Alameda Food Bank Feeds More With Less

1 September 2008 No Comment

By Casey Miner —

The number of people using the Alameda Food Bank jumped more than 25% over the past year, even as donations dropped from large supermarkets dropped. As the holiday season approaches, food bank staff are trying to figure out how to make sure they can feed everyone in Alameda who needs it.

Until last year, says Executive Director Paul Russell, the food bank consistently served 3,100-3,400 people per month. Now it serves 4,300, or about 6% of the city’s population.

“People who were making it when gas wasn’t $4 a gallon, when milk wasn’t $4 a gallon – we’re seeing those people now,” says Program Coordinator Samantha Kahn.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that wholesale food prices have risen 5.5-6.5% in 2008, and will increase another 4-5% in 2009. Trying to stay competitive, supermarkets will cut surplus before raising prices. The brunt of those cuts fall on food banks like Alameda’s.

“Trader Joe’s is very generous,” says Kahn, who has worked at the food bank for about a year and a half. “But the current economic situation means a change in our inventory. When they order less, we get less.”

A year ago, says Russell, the food bank gave out 150 pounds of meat each day. Now, they’re lucky to give out a third that much.

The only full-time staff, Russell and Kahn oversee about one hundred volunteers, up to a third of whom are also clients. The average client’s income is $750 a month, and just over half are under age 18. Otherwise, says Kahn, the group is diverse.

“Everyone coming through the door is probably having a crappy day,” she says. “And everyone here tries to be aware of that. We try our best to treat everybody the same.”

Stacey Benedetto, 43, is both a volunteer and a client of the food bank. A resident of Alameda, Benedetto began visiting the food bank more than a year ago, after a car crash forced her to leave her job and live on Social Security. Her husband is disabled, and the money is not enough to provide for their two daughters, aged 10 and 13. “Things are extremely tight in our household,” she says. “I wouldn’t go out and buy a bag of cereal because it’s outrageous.” Fresh fruits and vegetables are also out of reach, and she’s grateful that the food bank provides them.

Typically, says Benedetto as she begins to fill a bag of groceries, a two-person family will receive at least two cans of fruit, two green vegetables, two types of soup, pasta, beans, tomato sauce, rice, and cereal, in addition to a share of whatever fresh food is available. Larger families receive more. “And then we find them something extra,” she says, smiling as she throws in a package of vanilla marshmallows. “For their kids.”

For now, says Russell, the food bank can handle the demand. “We are very lucky,” he says. “Over the past few years, we’ve built up 100,000 pounds of reserves. But we’re quickly going through that.”

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