Stimulus plan brings aid to local food banks

March 16, 2009 6:43:33 PM PDT
President Obama's stimulus package is a good first step, but the government must do a lot more to feed hungry Americans, that's according to a former member of the Clinton administration visiting the Bay Area.

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Joel Berg has made fighting hunger his life's work. Berg served in the Clinton administration as a food security official and now heads the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

His message is that government must get more involved in feeding the 36 million Americans who now go hungry.

"Trying to end hunger with a few more canned food drives is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon," said Berg.

Berg thinks President Obama's stimulus package is a big step in the right direction.

"The Obama stimulus package will provide a very practical boost to anti-hunger programs," said Berg. "It puts most of the money into the expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the new name for the food stamps program, but also provides significant funds for food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens."

At the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties, the additional shipments of food have started arriving.

"We're going to get more food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and more funds to help us distribute that food, so that's a very positive piece," said Larry Sly with Food Bank of Contra Costa.

The stimulus help couldn't come at a better time for food programs, which have seen dramatic increases in demand in just the past few months.

In January, 5,500 households in Contra Costa County took part in food giveaways, up 30 percent from last year.

In east Contra Costa, hard hit by the foreclosure crisis, demand jumped 81 percent.

Concord's Sandrena Monroe uses both food banks and food stamps to feed her family of six. Both programs will get a boost from the stimulus package.

"I think that's a blessing," said Monroe. "I think it's awesome."

Contra Costa's food stamp program now serves more than 40,000 people. The stimulus package will add enough money to expand that number by 13 percent.

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