Food banks struggle with high costs

April 5, 2008 12:21:00 AM PDT
It's actually a double whammy for charities, hit by higher gas and food prices. People just can't afford to feed their families and make donations. Part of the reason is because corn, which goes into so much of what we eat, hit a record high price this week, $6 dollars a bushel. Prices are up 30-percent, just since the first of the year.

"Sometimes you can get a lot, right now you can only get a couple each," said Cyndi Reinhold, a food bank client.

Cyndi Reinhold visits this San Francisco food bank pantry at Cobb Elementary every week.

"Right now only my husband's working," said Cyndi.

Cyndi spends about $10 dollars a day on food for her family of three and gets the rest here.

"I really plan my meal a lot on what they have," said Cyndi.

A slowing economy and rising food prices mean more people are getting help from the San Francisco food bank.

"Last year we served about 118,000 people and this year we're serving about 124,000 people," said Marguerite Nowak at the San Francisco Food Bank.

Second Harvest Food Banks of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties served 163,000 people a month last year and report more people are coming in for help this year.

"I think its pretty unprecedented times for us," said Michael Solt Ph.D, the Associate Dean from the San Jose State University Lucas Graduate School of Business.

Solt says an increased demand for corn based ethanol and soybeans have driven food prices up to record levels.

"Somehow the technology changes or find more land to farm, we're stuck with higher prices," said Solt.

Just how high?

In the Bay Area, milk is up 35 percent in the past year. Cheddar cheese up 18-percent. Chicken breasts are up 16-percent and bread is up 12-percent. The bottom line means, your dollar buys less food.

The Department of Agriculture spends 140-million dollars a year on food banks all across the nation. The San Francisco Food Bank in 2003 received 4-million pounds of food. Now the dollar translated five years later means they get 60-percent less, which means 1.6 million pounds of food.

The San Francisco food bank and others are lobbying elected officials for more money. A farm bill is in the works, but with huge budget shortfalls at the local, state and federal levels, there are no guarantees.

"Luckily the community of San Francisco has been incredibly generous. But it's definitely a concern of ours, especially as the economy starts to slide about what's going to happen to our donations and what we rely on," said Maruerite.

High food prices and a sliding economy is a recipe that leaves a bitter taste.


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