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Food Banks Face Shortages in Economic Downturn

Food banks and charities around the country are experiencing shortages as the economy continues to slide. In a two-part report, Tom Bearden examines how food banks are faring and Ray Suarez talks to analysts about the rising number of Americans using food stamps.

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    Next, a two-part look on this Thanksgiving Day at the growing demand for food in the U.S. during tough economic times.

    NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden begins with this report on the pressures food banks are facing.

  • TOM BEARDEN, NewsHour Correspondent:

    These days, the lines start to form at least an hour before they actually open the doors at the Metro CareRing food pantry in Denver.

    Jon Holmer has been running the place for the last six years.

  • JON HOLMER, Executive Director, Metro CareRing:

    We have seen just seen phenomenal increases in our client loads. We've had — two months ago, had a 60 percent increase over the previous year. Prior to that, a 20 percent increase. And after that, 30 percent increase, so it's just going up and up and up.


    Holmer says a lot of people who have never visited a food pantry before are now showing up looking for help.

    The Denver area is just now starting to feel the pinch of the tightening economy. Recently, high-tech companies announced a round of layoffs, and the unemployment rate has gone up by more than 25 percent.

    Nakia Rashid is one of those seeking help. A mother of two, she was laid off from her job in the health care industry and now collects unemployment while trying to find another job.


    If you're going from paycheck to paycheck, unemployment, or, you know, paycheck, it helps out in between.

    Price of food has gone up. The price of gas going down have helped out a lot. Food prices are still ridiculous. It's outrageous. And if you don't have any help, if you have a lot of mouths to feed, it's hard.

    And I have a 15-year-old, too, as well. So doing that is kind of hard, so these places help out a lot.


    Metro CareRing relies on personal and corporate donations to provide a three-day supply of food for each person who comes through the door, but those donations are decreasing.

    Holmer says one reason is that a local grocery store closed. Other stores are holding on to food they would normally donate to the pantry longer, trying to generate more income.


    Over here is where we typically have our produce. And one of the things that we've noticed about the produce is that it's not as high quality as it once was, nor is the quantity as great as it once was, as well.

    Usually we'd have three or four boxes on the floor. It'd be stacked up three or four high here. And now we're lucky to get four or five boxes from our typical pick-ups during the week.


    Thousands of food banks across the country are also struggling. Demand is up 25 percent over last year, and food banks in Seattle, Missouri and Alabama have closed, running out of money and supplies.

    In Stockton, California, where last month layoffs reached their highest level in seven years, the line at this food bank went around the parking lot. They've seen a 10 percent increase in demand.

    Kristine Gibson, the food bank's community outreach manager, says previous donors are now clients.

  • KRISTINE GIBSON, Food Bank Community Outreach Manager:

    With the economic downturn and the unemployment rate in San Joaquin County just on the rise, people who used to donate to us, either, you know, doing food donations or financial donations, we're starting to see them as clients now, because they've either lost their job, things have gotten tight in the home with, you know, at one point, gas prices going up, food prices going up, that they can't make ends meet for one reason or another, so, yes, now they're coming down and visiting us as a client and waiting in line.


    Spencer Stuart was recently laid off of from Toyota Motors.


    Especially at places like this, the lines are getting longer. There's a lot more people. And it's just hard to keep money, hard to get a job. I hope it changes around. I'm ending up — I have to go and go back to school because I can't get a job somewhere else.


    Not just food banks are concerned. The Denver Rescue Mission soup kitchen is also overwhelmed. Brad Meuli is the director of the mission.

  • BRAD MEULI, Denver Rescue Mission:

    We are serving more people than we ever have before. If we look at October in '07 to October in '08, we fed 7,000 more people. We provided almost 1,000 more nights of shelter.

    And so, in this tough economy, in this time that we're living in, I mean, I can tell you that we're serving more people than we ever have before, if we just compare those two months.


    On this day, the rescue mission received more than 2,000 turkeys from Safeway for their annual Thanksgiving drive, but that still left them short of their goal of 6,000. The mission has issued a plea for more donations.

    But even though Safeway is stepping up donations today, company spokesperson Kris Staaf says many more organizations are now looking for help.

  • KRIS STAAF, Safeway:

    These tough economic times really have generated a lot of requests. But, again, we look at each one on a case-by-case basis. We've actually been able to, I think, step it up this year, which is tremendous, especially when folks need it most.


    Back at Metro CareRing, they had to close the doors only 10 minutes after opening. Too many people, not enough food.


    I'm afraid that we're not going to have enough food to be able to provide for everybody who comes through our doors. And the other food pantries in the area are facing the same kind of things.

    I hear these same kind of statistics, same kind of concerns from all of them, and I'm really worried for what's going to happen by the end of the year.


    Recently, Wal-Mart donated $2.5 million, and the Wells Fargo Foundation has given $1.2 million to food banks around the country to help get through these tough times.

    But even with the donations, many food bank directors are still afraid they won't have enough food to meet demand during the holidays.