Blaine Johnson, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks, has so many touching stories about the people her nonprofit organization helps that she writes them down.
The story of Deborah Brooks is an example.
Brooks works the night shift at a housing nonprofit for the homeless, but doesn’t make enough money to buy her own food.
“Most of my paycheck goes to the dentist, to pay the rent, the lights and gas and the telephone,” she said.
Before going to one of the bank’s food pantries – a church or community center where the organization gives away food weekly – Brooks would subsist on rice and beans until her next paycheck, Johnson said.
“Now she supplements her groceries with tilapia, chicken, eggs, fruit cocktail, carrots, strawberries, blackberries, lettuce, pasta, rice and cereal from the Food Bank,” Johnson said. “The food is fresh and the nutritional benefits are undeniable.”
Brooks is typical of the tens of thousands of Bay Area residents who rely on food banks for sustenance. That’s why The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund gives 15 percent of the money it raises each year – the total for the past 26 years is $85 million – to food banks representing the Bay Area’s nine counties. Last year the fund contributed $1 million and expects to do the same this year.
“The money goes to buying protein and other staples,” said Paul Ash, executive director of the consolidated San Francisco and Marin Food Banks, which expects to give away 46 million pounds of food this year.
Although the banks get large food donations from farms and grocery corporations, the organization still needs to purchase 8 to 9 percent of its provisions. Ash said for every dollar received, his organization can distribute $6 worth of food.
At the Alameda County Community Food Bank, they stretch that $1 to $4 and give away roughly 24 million pounds of food a year, said Michael Altfest, a spokesman for the food bank.
In Alameda County, he said, they’ve seen an 11 percent spike in the number of people who need help. And in November alone, Altfest said, the food bank got 3,803 emergency calls on its hot line from people who said they didn’t have enough to eat.
“We hear that there are signs that the economy is improving,” he said. “But for our clients, many of whom are on fixed incomes, their situations are not changing.”
Ash said it’s difficult to fathom that there is food insecurity in this country. He points to Marin County, perceived as one of the nation’s wealthiest bastions. Last year 21 percent of that county’s population fell below the U.S. poverty level.
“The contrast between an image of America as the greatest producers of food and that anyone here would go hungry is hard to believe,” he said.