As the U.S. economy emerged from a deep recession more than two years ago, Faye Taylor found herself living in Chandler without a job, riding her bike to Matthew’s Crossing Food Bank on Arizona Avenue each month to pick up two large bags of groceries.
Through the food bank, she received not only food items, but toiletries that ultimately helped her to land a job at the beauty shop next door, though she is just barely employed, counting on a small clientele to pay her minimal bills. She still shows up at the food bank each month to pick up her groceries.
Although the U.S. is technically out of its recession, Matthew’s Crossing Food Bank continues to see an increase in people needing emergency food assistance because they are either unemployed or underemployed, said Stanley Nicpon, executive director.
“I don’t have to go to the business news to find out what’s going on in the economy,” Nicpon said.
Matthew’s Crossing buys its food at an extremely discounted rate from both Saint Mary’s Food Bank and United Food Bank, both of which get a large percentage of their food from the USDA.
“This year in particular we had less food than most years,” said Britany Statt, spokeswoman for United Food Bank in Mesa.
The types of requests the food bank receives have increasingly become because of job-loss, Statt said.
“Many of them are the same story: ‘My wife lost her job, my hours got cut at work,’” Statt said. “The face of hunger isn’t what it used to be.”
U.S. numbers of food insecure households, those that had difficulty providing adequate food and nutrition for at least a few days a month for seven months out of the year, are at an all-time high, and since the 2008 farm bill was not renewed, the government is reducing the amount of food donations to food banks, Nicpon said.
“We’re not out of the woods financially yet, and it’s going to be two or three years before we see any sort of easing of that situation,” Nicpon said.
In 2011, about 15 percent of U.S. households were considered food insecure, the highest number recorded since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began tracking food security in 1995, which has remained fairly consistent since 2008, according to the USDA’s report on household food security released in September. About two million of those households had the most severe experience of worrying about where their next meal would come from, the report said.
In Arizona, 20.5 percent of households did not have enough money for food in 2011, giving Arizona the 15th highest rate of food insecurity in the country, according to the Association of Arizona Food Banks.
“Many of our households, especially those with children, are barely getting by, or may not be getting by at all,” said Ginny Hildebrand, president and CEO of the Association of Arizona Food Banks, in a September statement. “This is an issue that should concern all Arizonans.”
Matthew’s Crossing served emergency grocery boxes, consisting of one bag of carbohydrates and one bag of proteins, to 46,259 people in 2011. This year, the number of people served will be slightly more than 50,000, Nicpon said.
About 85 percent of those people go to the food bank because they are unemployed or underemployed, Nicpon said. About 5 percent of those people started using the food bank in the last three months because they lost their jobs, he said.
“Some have had to take two or three jobs to make ends meet,” Nicpon said.
The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has had to cut back since the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 was not renewed by Congress in October, so food banks are relying heavily on donations to make up for the increase in requests, Nicpon said.
“The way we’ve dealt with the increase is we’ve had to work pretty hard going out to organizations, asking them to have food drives,” Nicpon said. “In this land of ours, we have a lot of food; it’s just people having awareness that food banks are in distress right now.”
United Food Bank provides food to 250 food assistance agencies, such as other food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, in Arizona.
Each fiscal year, the food bank usually receives from seven million to eight million pounds of its food from the USDA, said Bob Evans, president and CEO of United Food Bank. This year, the bank received about one million pounds less than usual, he said.
“We are hoping to see a comeback in our USDA commodities, but we haven’t seen anything yet,” Evans said.
When the government cuts funding to food assistance programs, more hungry people show up at food banks for help, creating a vicious cycle, Evans said.
“All of us in this kind of work are very dependent on that farm bill to go through,” Evans said. “My hat’s off to people who step up and help out in times like this.”