The United States is the wealthiest nation in the world, with more than enough food for everyone. Then why do millions of children, seniors and working families worry about their next meal? Why does the Alameda County Community Food Bank provide food to 49,000 people each week?
The simplest reason is poverty -- and how hard it often is to climb out of it.
In the Bay Area, even two full-time jobs can be less than you need to make ends meet. Take Evangeline and Sean. They’re both working full-time, living modestly in a one-bedroom apartment with their two young children. They’ve applied for CalFresh benefits (aka food stamps), but sometimes, just an hour of overtime will mean their income is too high to qualify.
They have to pay the rent. They have to keep their car in working order to get to their jobs. By then, their paychecks are gone. And yet, their children still need to eat. So they visit a food pantry in their neighborhood in Alameda.
Evangeline is taking night classes, hoping to move up in her workplace and no longer rely on the food bank – something she couldn’t do if she had to worry about feeding her kids.
Food banks are performing triage – helping people meet immediate nutritional needs. Government programs such as CalFresh (more commonly known as food stamps), WIC and school meals support working families, lessen poverty, and relieve pressure on food banks like ours facing unprecedented demand.
During the long and deep recession, with millions still unemployed or underemployed, food banks have grown tremendously. Our Emergency Food Helpline call volume has grown 145% since the start of the recession in 2007.
Yet the same forces that have so impacted our clients have also put our nutrition and safety-net programs under attack.
Food banks and their donors and volunteers are often expected to fill the gap, while leaving an uncertain future for the programs meeting people’s most basic needs and helping them lift themselves out of poverty. Budgets balanced on the backs of working families, seniors and children will ensure that our communities struggle to thrive and grow.
We can do better.
That’s why the Alameda County Community Food Bank has taken the lead among food banks nationally in advocating for policies that will one day put us out of business.
Our Community Advocates Against Hunger are volunteers, member agencies and clients on the front lines of hunger in our community. They bring real stories of people struggling with hunger to elected officials with legislative visits and direct action. Last year, the legislature passed and Gov. Brown signed every one of the bills we supported to stregthen our nutrition safety net.
Access to healthy food is a basic human right – and all of us benefit when we work together for viable solutions.
Yet vital programs are under attack. Right now, the House version of the Farm Bill -- which would cut $90 a month from 500,000 households' emergency food budget, kick 3 million people off nutrition assistance entirely, and take free lunches away from 300,000 kids from low-income families.