I've been working on a proposal to address the California Hunger Crisis, and I thought I'd share some of the background info here.
Hunger in California
Before the recent economic downward turn, 4.2 million Californians (12% of the population)
were considered “food insecure”, which means they had to make choices between food and other
living expenses. A much larger percentage was considered to be living in “marginal food
security”, which means they were sometimes threatened with these choices while frequently
facing the lack of a healthy balanced diet. This population is constantly vulnerable to becoming
food insecure when circumstances change.
Families with children are much more likely to be food insecure.
The Current Food Crisis
Nationally, food banks are reporting a 15-20% increase on average in the number of people
turning to them for help now compared to one year ago.
Food banks receive the bulk of their food from the food industry, including producers,
distributors, and grocery stores. Usually this food is donated because of surplus inventory or
slightly damaged product. Increased efficiency in the food industry, and thus decreased surplus,
along with the proliferation of bargain grocery stores that will purchase dented cans for resale
has led to a major decrease in food donations from this previously steady source.
Since 2002, USDA commodities distributed nationwide has decreased more than 60% - the
equivalent of 45 million lost meals in California. The low dollar has increased food exports,
which has further decreased USDA donations over the past year.
Rising Food Costs
The United States is experiencing the worst food inflation prices since the 1970s.
The federal consumer price index (CPI) for the cost of food rose 4.7% from March 2007 to
March 2008. The CPI for the Thrifty Food Plan, the basis for Food Stamp allotment, increased
even more at 5.6%. The Thrifty Food Plan includes items that will feed a family at the lowest
possible cost while providing basic, although not adequate or healthy, dietary needs. In 2007, the Thrifty Food Plan cost $320 per month for a family of two. Changes in the price of items in the Thrifty Food Plan present a more accurate description of the stresses felt by low-income
In the first quarter of 2008 crop prices were up 20%, and livestock prices were up 10%.
The CPI for cereal and bakery products increased by 4.4% in 2007 and is projected to rise 8% in
2008. Price of milk is up 30% and bread is up 16%
Rising Fuel Costs
The cost of gas has led many families to make choices between going to work and purchasing
The increase in cost also has great impact on Food Banks. The cost of distributing food is greatly
increasing the overhead required of these programs, particularly in outlying communities and
areas where food banks have had to close.
The recent economic crisis, including home foreclosures and job losses, has disproportionately
affected citizens living in marginal food security. This has led to those families that previously
were able to subsist without assistance to turn to food banks in recent months.
In early 2007, California’s Central Valley experienced a devastating freeze that destroyed crops
and caused widespread economic hardship. Many families have yet to recover.
Several California food banks have reported that past donors and volunteers are now turning to
them for help. The number of first time aid recipients is up an estimated 26-50%.
Insufficient Utilization of Federal Aid
Of the Americans eligible for food stamp benefits, only 65% are enrolled nationally. In
California this number is even lower at 50%. In the subgroup of working families, nationally
57% eligible households are enrolled, while in California it was 34%. California ranked 50th in
the nation on this measure (including D.C., we only performed better than Colorado). Even if
California aims only to participate at the national average, the state is currently forgoing $1
billion in federal funds for its citizens each year.
Food Stamp benefits are entirely federally funded and provide economic stimulation to
communities in California. Every $5 in new food stamp benefits generates $9.30 in community
economic activity. Every additional dollar in food stamps generates up to $0.47 of new spending
Food Bank Response
The recently passed Farm Bill will deliver some relief in October, but the new level of funding
will still not return food supply to the 2002 level and will certainly not address the excessive
increase in demand.
Food Banks across the country are responding by decreasing programs while dipping into
reserves. Several food banks have closed in the past few months. Most food banks, however, are
avoiding closure by limiting programs. Food pantries and soup kitchens across California have
decreased from five to seven open days per week to one to five days open every two weeks.
Distribution programs are reporting that they have been forced to decrease handouts from seven
days of food to two days of food.
Most commonly, though, food banks are simply depleting their reserves in order to supply the
needed resources to communities. This will have a devastating effect in the coming months and
The federal budget does not currently allow for a comprehensive plan for addressing hunger in
America, and the California budget deadlock further incapacitates state and local agencies in
efforts to help. Food banks are completely dependent upon private donations to weather this
crisis and work toward a more sustainable future.
Please consider donating what you can. Volunteer time, non-perishable food, and of course, cash, are always valued and greatly needed.
Food Crisis Effect on Food Banks
“Food Agencies Go Hungry in San Francisco” San Francisco Business Times
“Potato Chips Beckon as Food Prices Rise” San Francisco Chronicle
News Articles Regarding Current Crisis - LA Food Bank
Contra Costa/Solano Counties
Peninsula and South Bay