Local residents go to food banks for help

February 4, 2009 7:16:32 PM PST
The troubled economy is now affecting people who never thought they would have to ask for a helping hand. In eastern Contra Costa County, the need for free food has nearly doubled.

It's a line few people imagine they'd ever stand in -- the one that ends with bags of free food.

"I had severance pay and everything, and it's just drained out," said Felix Velasquez.

Until last year, Velasquez made well over six figures as a mechanical engineer.

But he was laid off, and despite a master's degree and 18 years of experience, Velasquez hasn't been able to find a job.

"You would think, oh, I can find a job in two or three months. And all of the sudden it was just draining, and a couple of times, I would find out I was overqualified. It's tough," said Velasquez.

"We've got folks who've been working for years and never would've come to this site. And now they've got to," said Larry Sly from the Food Bank of Contra Costa.

As the economy worsens in East Contra Costa County, the number of people who show up for this food giveaway goes up, 10 to 20 percent per month.

Today, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano distributed bags to more than 1,000 people. A year ago, the number was 600.

Herrie Downie is another first-timer. She's a part-time worker for the county. Her husband is in construction and neither can find regular work. They have a mortgage and three kids.

"I've never been in this spot before. I've worked ever since I was 16, and it came down to this," said Downie.

Gerald Lanzy is here for just the third time.

"I never really thought I would have to come here. So I had to take some of that humble pie and come down here," said Lanzy.

With the county and other non-profits cutting services to those in need, as tough as it is for some to come here, they're grateful the food bank still has a line to stand in.