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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Dramatic Rise of Hunger in Sonoma County

Dramatic Rise of Hunger

Median Household Income $930 a Month of Food Recipients

By Bob Klose
The number of Sonoma County residents needing help to feed themselves and their families has risen 20 percent during each of the past two years, producing a growing community of people who are living on just one-fifth of the median household income of their neighbors, a study by the Redwood Empire Food Bank shows.

“Our most startling and ultimately significant finding is the incredibly low median monthly income of $930 a month reported by food recipients,” the report said. “If you consider that $1,078 was the median rent for an apartment in Sonoma County in 2008, you can understand why there is little if any money left for food or necessities.”

The hunger study, Hunger in Sonoma County 2010, was conducted in 2009. It included the participation of 114 Sonoma County pantries, kitchens and shelters which interviewed some 357 recipients of food bank distributions in Sonoma, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Windsor, Sebastopol, and Rohnert Park/Cotati as well as unincorporated areas of the county. Highlights of the survey include:

Food Insecurity
74 percent of households receiving food relief in Sonoma County experience low or very low food security, which is defined by the USDA as reports of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.
Food insecurity is particularly difficult for households with children. When children are in the home, households reporting “low food security” rose from 43.8 percent without children to 57.8 percent with children under 18.

Jobs and Income
52 percent of food recipients are working and report that the largest source of their income comes from a job. The next highest source of income is Social Security.
Only 2.7 percent of food recipients participating in the study rely on government assistance programs commonly called welfare.

61 percent of food recipients live at or below the federal poverty line, which is $903 a month for one person, $1,214 for two people, and $1,838 for a family of four.
35 percent were forced to choose between paying for food and paying for other basic necessities.
About a third of recipients had to choose between buying food or paying for utilities, rent, medicine or medical care.

30 percent have no access to a car which limited their ability to seek food, services and a job.
21 percent had a hard time or were late paying rent during the previous month.
10 percent have no place to live.

Of households with children, 73 percent have incomes 130 percent below poverty line.
17 percent of recipients said their children were hungry during the previous year.
38 percent of all food recipients are under 18.

“In Sonoma County, land of award-winning wineries and gourmet eateries, there are families that cannot afford to feed their children nutritious food,” the report said. It noted that the rising rate of childhood obesity is directly related to the inability of families to provide healthy food for their children. “

41 percent of senior food recipients 65 and older report low or very low food security.

58 percent of households with at least one person over 65 live on incomes 130 percent of poverty level, and another 36 percent have incomes between 131-150 percent of poverty level.

The study also reports on the ability of the 146 various agencies that work with the REFB to provide hunger relief in Sonoma County. It found that agencies report an increase in requests for help from 70 to 88 percent in 2009 versus the previous three years. Seventy-seven percent of agency food comes from the REFB, 78 percent of agencies have no paid staff, and the average number of meals served by kitchens in a day was 304.

“As a hunger study interviewer, one gains a strong understanding of the fragility of well-being. None of the people interviewed ever imagined they would be seeking food assistance,” said Goodman.

The REFB report said the study information will be used to help improve services, advocate for policy changes and “fuel our mission of ending hunger in our community.”
Among other things, Goodman said, the study shows that there are varying degrees of food insecurity and hunger, and as a result different types of help are necessary to meet people’s needs.

For example:
A person who is hungry every day will be best served by a soup kitchen.
Someone whose income can’t last them through the week or month will find a food pantry most beneficial.

Many people can make it on their own if they have access to affordable groceries.
“In this situation, a Value Marketplace where one can find affordable groceries is the best choice,” Goodman said.

The REFB, working with 146 partner agencies, provides hunger relief to some 70,000 individuals and families in every community of Sonoma County including Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sonoma Valley, Santa Rosa, the West County and Russian River communities and the North County from Windsor to Cloverdale.

The REFB is also the primary food source for pantries serving Lake, Mendocino, Del Norte and Humboldt counties.

For more information, please call David Goodman at 707-523-7900.

Related Story...

Interchurch Pantry Struggles to Survive

By Cecile Lusby
Sebastopol’s Interchurch Pantry is turning to the community in an appeal for financial help in its mission to feed the needy in West Sonoma County. As the economic downturn continues, the six churches that have sustained the Pantry for decades have all suffered a loss of income. These churches are hurting at a time when more individuals are losing jobs and more households need assistance.

The Pantry served 585 households in the first six months of 2001; this year, in the same six-month period, we served 1,245 West County families. Additionally, there are twice as many single individuals, many of them seniors, requesting assistance with groceries. 

This problem did not happen overnight; we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of clients served over the last four years. Now we face a loss of income from our member churches. As a direct consequence, we have been operating at a loss averaging $1500 a month for more than six months.

Sadly, additional clients mean Pantry volunteer shoppers must buy greater amounts to fill the extra need, and all Pantries and hot meal programs must pay for their commodities at the Redwood Empire Food Bank. It is this cash nexus that is so difficult to achieve in this time of high unemployment. The Food Bank in turn feels the pressure to care for the hungry in Sonoma County in ever greater numbers.
The Little Red Hen Society generously awarded the Interchurch Pantry of Sebastopol a one-time grant of $15,000 at the end of 2008 at a time when our shelves were almost bare, but there is no miraculous grant appearing now. 

The Pantry has two traditional food drives: The Letter Carriers/ Postal Clerks project on the Saturday before Mother’s Day and the Realtor’s Food Drive just before Thanksgiving. Now after only two months since Mother’s Day, Sebastopol’s Food Pantry is in dire financial distress.

We always appreciate produce sent to us from West County gardens and family farms, but in this summer appeal we are asking for money to help us continue feeding people in need in our community until November and the well-known holiday generosity of West Sonoma County.

Please send your check to Interchurch Food Pantry, c/o Diana Godwin, Treasurer, P.O. Bo 579, Sebastopol, CA 95473. Gifts of food may be brought to the Pantry site at 500 Robinson Road in Sebastopol during business hours Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; or Saturday between 10am and 12 noon.

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