Eureka Times-Standard (California), June 28, 2008: The cost of living
Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 06/28/2008 01:27:21 AM PDT
Rising gas prices are causing some volunteers at Food for People to talk about using the food bank’s services themselves, said Director Anne Holcomb, illustrating the growing need for affordable food in the county.
Over the last few months the food bank — a network of 18 food pantries spread across the county — has seen a 10 percent increase in new clients at its Eureka site alone. The Eureka food bank serves more than 2,600 customers per month. Countywide, it serves about 10,000.
Holcomb said the food bank’s growing numbers are directly related to the sudden price increases for everything from groceries to a tank of gas.
“The biggest change we’ve seen in the last few months is that the fuel costs have really jumped and the food costs have jumped,” she said, adding that there is an increasing number of first-time clients.
Shelley, a mother of three who lives in Eureka on a fixed-income, said she has been going to the food bank more frequently since food costs are on the rise. She said last weekend, the food bank actually ran out of food, a first for her.
“In the beginning, I was kind of embarrassed but the people here make you feel really welcome,” she said. “You realize how blessed it is to have this place and have this extra food. It takes off a little bit of the worry about not having milk and fruit in the home.”
Shelley, who is diabetic, said she used to come to the bank every couple of months to
help her get through tough periods, but now she goes once a month. She estimates that food takes up one-third of her income and it’s money that makes the difference when her children want to participate on sports teams, take a special class or swimming lessons.
“It makes things a little bit easier,” she said.
Coupled with a slow economy, less donations and the tightening of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget, Holcomb said the food bank is even having a little trouble keeping up with people’s needs.
“The difficult thing for us is that our resources have been somewhat limited as well,” she said. “Our approach is we are giving less to accommodate more people, which is not an ideal either.”
She said the support from the USDA has declined 60 percent in the last three years, which means clients are not getting as many commodity staples.
A recently released report analyzing food security in North Coast counties, found that local residents are struggling harder to afford food than those in other areas of the state, highlighting not only the high rate of poverty here, but a lack of connection with the social services meant to help.
“I worry that that’s happening with more people than we realized,” said Jessica Van Arsdale, director of the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University, and co-writer of the report. “It’s sort of a hidden thing, the poverty is sort of kind of unseen.”
Based on 3,000 surveys conducted over a two-year period, the report found that 8.4 percent of households in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties have “very low food security,” compared to a 3.7 percent state average and 4 percent nationwide.
“Very low food security,” means someone went hungry because there wasn’t money to buy food, according to the USDA. For families with children, the local rate is almost triple the rate nationwide, the report said.
According to a 2008 county nutrition profile by the California Food Policy Advocates, poverty in Humboldt County is at 15 percent. For children, the rate is even higher — 26 percent. The profile also indicated that more than half of residents who are eligible for food stamps do not participate in the program.
Van Arsdale said the USDA has shown that every food stamp dollar used creates $1.84 for the local economy.
“If people are not having to worry about buying food, they can spend it on other things and usually spend that locally,” she said.
Van Arsdale said there may be a variety of factors that contribute to why people don’t use the services, from the lengthy process it takes to sign up for food stamps to not realizing they’re eligible, or just not having the means for transportation.
“We do believe there are Humboldt County residents who are eligible for the food stamp program but don’t use it,” said Leslie Lollich, the public education and outreach officer for the county’s health and human services. “We are working with other agencies to reach out to seniors because many low-income seniors probably don’t realize it’s an option for them.”
While there doesn’t seem to be any increase of caseloads, Lollich said it may be too early to tell.
Susan Fabiano, the site coordinator for the Senior Citizen Resource Center’s dinning center in Arcata, said the dinning center has noticed that some seniors are visiting the center less because of the high gas prices.
“They’re just being real frugal about where they go and when they go,” Fabiano said, adding that some people drive from McKinleyville. The facility serves an average of 45 meals served a day.
With the data collected, Van Arsdale said she hopes to identify what services are most needed in specific areas, and what can be done to streamline the process for food services. She has also started a blog around the report in hopes of getting a dialogue going in the community.
Van Arsdale said most concerning are the children who are affected by hunger, and who may have poor cognitive skills, be more depressed and do worse in school as a result. A lack of food and poverty can also lead to higher obesity and diabetes rates in children and adults. Cheaper foods are usually higher in calories, and a body that has been starved will store more fat at one time, she said.
Van Arsdale said she is afraid as gas prices go up, the situation will just get worse, and Holcomb agrees, saying that she sees no end to the rising costs.
“No one seems to be able to predict when the economy is going to go around,” she said.
* 8.4 percent of North Coast households have very low food security, the national average is 4 percent
* 11 percent of North Coast households with children have very low food security, the national average is 4.3 percent
* 15 percent of Humboldt households live in poverty
* 26 percent of Humboldt children live in poverty
* 8,614 Humboldt students are eligible for free or reduced school breakfast
* 5,504 eligible Humboldt students are not using the free or reduced school breakfast program
* 54 percent of people eligible do not participating in food stamp programs
Source: California Center for Rural Policy, California Food Policy Advocates
Box: Hunger report: For more information on the hunger study, go to www.humboldt.edu/~ccrp, or call 826-3400. To see eligibility for food stamps, go to http://www.myfoodstamps.org/eligible.html.
Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or email@example.com.