Food banks and Season of Sharing help Bay Area’s neediest

The booming economy hasn’t beaten back hunger.

In Silicon Valley, down through the Peninsula, 1 out of every 10 people gets at least some food from a food bank.

That’s 250,000 people who get a bag of groceries or a meal from the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties — every month.

For perspective, that’s enough people to fill AT&T Park six times, said Kathy Jackson, CEO of the food bank.

“Certainly in the tech sector it feels like the economy is booming,” she said. “But it still is clearly hard times for the families we’re serving.”

The $200 to $300 a low-income family had last year to spend on food out of its monthly pay is now going to a rent increase.

“It’s a challenging time right now,” she said. “Our concern is with what is generally good news about the economy that people won’t realize that the need is as high as it was during the recession.”

But through the good economic times and the bad, local food banks have been able to count on The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund. Over the past 29 years, the fund has provided more than $17.8 million to food banks in the nine Bay Area counties.

Last year, the food banks took the $1.2 million donated and turned that into 2.52 million meals — more than two meals for each dollar donated by individuals and corporate sponsors.

The fund is one of the largest food bank supporters in the Bay Area.

And it’s money the food banks can count on year after year.

“We have generous donors that come and go over the years. And then there are those that just come,” said David Goodman, CEO of the Redwood Empire Food Bank, which serves Sonoma and surrounding counties. “And I would say that’s what Season of Sharing is.”

This year, Goodman’s agency is sending truckloads of food to Lake County to help the victims of the summer’s destructive wildfires. While the food bank has always served that area, there’s a greater need now.

“As soon as the fire and police and paramedics leave, the food bank is there to serve people for the duration,” he said. “When people have lost everything, that means we will be there until they’re back on their feet.”

And that could take months or even years, he said.

Even without the fires, 1 in 6 people in the region is hungry, with the food bank serving 82,000 individuals each year. Some come once a day, others once a week or once a month.

The Redwood Empire Food Bank is “magnificent,” Goodman said, offering not just a warehouse of food, but also precooked entrees prepared by chefs who use the donated food off shelves. Sometimes that means pumpkin gnocchi, other times it’s jambalaya or even ratatouille, he added.

The entrees are sent to distribution locations along with the typical bags of groceries. In addition, the food bank has a Whole Foods-like market, with organic chicken, produce and other offerings — but it’s a store only for people who qualify for food stamps or meet other income requirements, proving they have a low income.

Last year, the Season of Sharing fund provided $63,000 to the Redwood Empire Food Bank, which is able to distribute $4 worth of food for every dollar spent.

Of the money raised each year, 15 percent of the fund’s annual proceeds go to the Bay Area food banks. The rest is provided to individuals throughout the region who have urgent needs — a month of rent, tires for a car, furniture or money for medical expenses. They are identified through community and social service agencies.

For one mother in Santa Clara, however, it was food, Jackson said. This mom decided one afternoon that she wanted to bypass the cheap fast food she planned to feed her children and instead opt for a healthy lunch. At the grocery store, she chose peanut butter, jelly, bread and grapes, a small basket of groceries with something like a $15 price tag that she couldn’t afford, Jackson added. She opted for the few dollars of fast food.

“When did a PBJ sandwich become a luxury food?” Jackson said. “We are continuing to see unprecedented need.”

 

Jill Tucker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. You can e-mail her at jtucker@sfchronicle.com.

The original article can be found here.