Hunger on the rise for San Francisco families
San Francisco’s emergency food aid agencies are seeing some new faces as a result of the ongoing recession. “We’re seeing across-the-board increases [in demand for food assistance] that cuts across demographics,” says Kei Hoshino, communications and marketing manager for the San Francisco Food Bank (SFFB), a non-profit that provides food to more than 133,000 people a year.
Along with the first-timers, more people who previously used SFFB’s services only sparingly now are turning to them for help more frequently, Hoshino says. SFFB receives about 6 percent of its funding from the city and county, and it distributes food through more than 600 community food programs, such as pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers and homeless shelters. The city also funds SFFB’s emergency food box program, a three-day emergency food supply for individuals and families experiencing a crisis.
Rising unemployment, a reduction in working hours for those who have jobs and inflation that outpaces wage increases are the primary causes for individuals and families asking for food assistance, Hoshino says, and the problem is further exacerbated by San Francisco’s high cost of living. “A major factor is the lack of affordable housing,” he says. “In 2009, fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the city is $1,658, which is more than twice the national average.”
Food donations, many of which come from manufacturers, also are down, Hoshino says. SFFB reports receiving about one-fourth as much cereal donations as it did two years ago. “[This is] probably because manufacturers are responding to higher input costs by doing more repackaging and reprocessing or selling more to dollar stores,” Hoshino says.
SFFB has been compensating for fewer donations by and spending more on food, particularly dry goods like canned fruits and vegetables and cereal. From July 2008 to March 2009, SFFB purchased about 30 percent more food by volume than it had in the same period the previous year, Hoshino says.