But what about those who have trouble making ends meet at other times of the year — or all year long?
Lynn Crocker of Second Harvest Food Bank explains that the need for food is actually greater during the summer: "When school is out, parents must provide meals to children who may qualify for free lunch and breakfast during the school year. This can strain already tight budgets."
Second Harvest is the food bank that supplies 400 partner organizations in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. Forty-four percent of Second Harvest's food and cash donations come in during its holiday food and fund drive from mid-October until mid-January. The food collected during this drive lasts until spring. Then, demand for food continues, but food donations have stopped, so Second Harvest begins using its cash donations to purchase food until the next fall.
Crocker explains that "food insecurity" and nutritional problems are major issues for low-income families. For example, it costs $18.16 to buy 1,000 calories of nutritious food (such as fruits and vegetables), but only $1.76 for 1,000 calories of non-nutritious food (junk food). People on tight budgets tend to shift to less nutritious foods since it is easier to cut food costs than fixed payments such as rent. Unfortunately, these decisions have negative health consequences that are costly both to those individuals and to society as a whole.
More people than ever are in need of food right now due to high fuel costs, the meltdown in the sub-prime mortgage market, and a general economic slowdown. Second Harvest experienced a 10 percent increase in demand for food this winter, and believes that this may be just the tip of the iceberg since people who have not previously gone to food banks are often reluctant to begin doing so, even as their situation becomes more desperate.
This situation is compounded by the fact that donations have decreased. Tom Myers, executive director of the Community Services Agency in Mountain View, says charitable donations from individuals are one of the first things to decline in a weak economy.
Furthermore, while CSA is able to obtain food not just from Second Harvest but from local grocery stores, farmers markets and Hidden Villa (an organic farm in Los Altos Hills), legal liability now prohibits other organizations, including Second Harvest, from accepting food from stores and restaurants, reducing their sources of food donations.
What can you do to help? Surprisingly, the best answer may not be to go out and buy food to give to a food bank (although food donations are always welcome). The following options are more efficient ways to provide food to those who need it at a lower cost to you:
• Donate fruit from your fruit trees: Pick it yourself and take it to the Community Services Agency, or have Village Harvest volunteers pick it for you and take it to an organization that can use it. For more info, call CSA at (650) 968-0836 or Village Harvest at (888) FRUIT-411.
• Donate money: Food banks can buy more food for $50 than you can, because they can often get it for just the cost of shipping. Write a check to CSA or Second Harvest.
• Clean out your cupboards: Do you still have those cans of pumpkin and cranberry sauce that you didn't use at Thanksgiving, or other food items that you may not use before they expire? Take them to CSA.
Additionally, you can have fun and help fight hunger by dining at restaurants participating in CSA's "Chefs Who Care" program. (The most recent event was at Tarragon in Sunnyvale, where a 3-course meal was $24 per person, and half of that went to CSA.) Register on CSA's Web site at csacares.org, where you can also learn about CSA's Spring Gala on April 5 and Empty Bowls Soup Supper on April 13.