Newly Poor Swell Lines at Food Banks
And amid the million-dollar houses of Marin County in California, a pantry at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center last month changed its policy to allow people to stop by once a week instead of every other week, since there are so many new faces in line alongside the regulars. “We’re seeing people who work at banks, for software firms, for marketing firms, and they’re all losing their jobs,” said Dave Cort, the executive director. “Here we are in big, fancy Marin County, but we have people who are standing in line with their eyes wide open, thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe I’m here.’ ”
The demand is not limited to pantries, which distribute groceries from food banks, supermarket surplus and individuals who donate through church or school can drives. The number of food-stamp recipients was up by 17 percent across New York State, and 12 percent in New Jersey, in November from a year before. When a mobile unit of the Essex County welfare office, as part of a pilot program to distribute food-stamp applications in other counties, stopped in Shop-Rite parking lots recently in Morris County, it was swamped.
“If one of our richest counties has people signing up for food stamps who have never signed up before, that indicates the depth of this problem with the lack of food,” said Kathleen DiChiara, executive director of Community FoodBank of New Jersey. “It’s the canary in the coal mine.”
Experts said that chronically poor people tend to adapt to the periods where money is scarce by asking for support from friends or tapping into social services, but that working-class people who suddenly lose jobs or homes often find themselves at sea, unsure how to navigate the system or ashamed to seek help.
It is those people who, over the last several months, have started arriving in growing numbers at food pantries, which are often the first tentative step for those whose incomes are too high to qualify for government assistance. (Many pantries have a no-questions policy, though they might determine how many bags of groceries a customer can receive by the number of people in the household.)