The Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB) launched its annual winter food and funds drive, an increasingly important seasonal appeal as economic recession, poverty and hunger continue to take their toll on families, children and seniors in Sonoma County.
“We’re launching our annual drive at a time of unprecedented hardship for more and more of our neighbors,” said David Goodman, Executive Director of the REFB.
“When I took this job 10 years ago, we distributed food to about 30,000 Sonoma County residents every month,” Goodman said.” “Now every month we are providing food to expect any significant change in the rate of increase in the immediate future.”
Since the recession began early three years ago, requests for help have risen steadily. All of the 147 pantries and relief organizations that use the REFB as their food resource report more demand for assistance. The REFB’s own programs are seeing more people. The number of meals distributed during this year’s annual REFB summer lunch program rose 22 percent. In June, 25,900 Sonoma County residents received food stamps, a 77 percent increase over the last two years.
“Sadly, we’re not surprised. Our recent study, “Hunger in Sonoma County/2010,’ Shows that the down economy is taking a very heavy toll on our neighbors,” Goodman said. “The median household income of people who receive food relief from us directly or from our partner agencies is just $930 a month, hardly enough to even rent an apartment in our area let alone pay other bills and buy food.”
“Thus, we are asking all Sonoma County residents, businesses, organizations, faith-based groups-everyone-to step up and give what they can so that no one in our community goes hungry,” he said.
Goodman also said the steady growth of hunger is straining the REFB’s ability to deliver food to people in need.
“When I arrived in 2000, our warehouse on Industrial Drive was handling and distributing food to about 30,000 Sonoma County residents. We also were, and still are, the main source of food for low –income people living in Lake, Mendocino, Del Norte and Humboldt counties,” Goodman said. “Now we’re reaching more than twice the number of people working out of the same facility. Our refrigeration system is too small. Fresh produce is now 50 percent of our storage capacity. We haven’t the space to sort, package and warehouse the food we have to have on hand for the pantries and hunger relief agencies that come to us for supplies. Our single truck bay at our headquarters limits our ability to receive and ship food quickly and efficiently.”
“We’re outgrowing our operations center and we must plan for the future which is upon us now,” he said.
The annual winter food and funds drive runs from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31. The goal is to collect 225,000 of food and $165,000 in cash.
Work on the annual drive began in recent weeks as the REFB sent fliers to some 700 businesses, schools, wineries, clubs, fait-based groups and others encouraging people to host food drives at their places of businesses and other public places.