As summer gets under way and the local agricultural and tourism seasons pick up steam, the number of Monterey County residents who rely on emergency food assistance typically decreases. And while this trend has remained true this year, the Food Bank for Monterey County is dealing with a new, much higher normal when it comes to need, says Executive Director Leslie Sunny.
In February, the food bank helped 11,236 people with emergency supplemental food—the highest number ever served in one month throughout the food bank’s 20-year history. This was a 45 percent increase over February 2012, when the agency served 7,738 people. In past years, this figure would shrink down to 4,000 to 5,000 in the spring, says Sunny. But, in the wake of a record-breaking February, around 7,000 people utilized their services in recent months. Overall, the food bank has seen a 50 percent increase in need since 2008.
“Due to both the general economy and sequestration, our numbers remain high and we expect this trend to continue,” says Melissa Kendrick, development director for the food bank. “As more agencies lose their funding, we will have to find creative ways to deal with the overflow.”
Tough economic times not only fuel hunger, but also breed health issues that go hand-in-hand with poverty. “Our recipient population suffers from all the inherent problems prevalent among the poor, such as diabetes,” says Kendrick.
To reach untapped populations who need assistance and provide them with fresh, nutritious produce, the food bank operates a successful Family Markets program in the months between April and October. Currently there are 10 Family Market sites throughout the county, serving between 250 and 500 people at each. Families walk away with 50 to 60 pounds of free produce (from locally grown goods like strawberries and salad greens to produce like apples and melons from other regions), as well as recipes and tips on how to cook with the items.
Over the next year, the food bank plans to shift from large distribution events—which can be unmanageable—to additional smaller markets. “Instead of a huge venue, we are looking for ways to work with smaller venues for better access,” says Sunny. For example, when they started a monthly market at a church on the East Side of Salinas last year, between 300 and 400 people initially came. By April, 1,500 households turned up in need of food assistance. They discontinued that market, and now instead work with local agencies to offer more options for locals to access these services, rather than one large, hectic event.
Sunny is hopeful that this new approach and increased venue locations will help the food bank meet its goal of providing an additional one million pounds of produce in the coming year. The target is 2.5 million pounds, up from last year’s 1.5 million. “It’s a pretty audacious goal, but we think we can make it,” she says.
In the background of this increasing need is the fact that the food bank receives “dramatically lower” food donations than it once did, says Sunny. As the food industry has become more efficient over the last 10 to 15 years, they have not had as much to give, meaning that the food bank has to purchase a much higher portion of its food than in the past. While client bags have gotten smaller, Sunny says the food bank can still stretch each dollar donated into an impressive $5 worth of services.
Those wishing to support the food bank—which serves one in five adults and one in four children in Monterey County—should take note of the Edible Monterey Bay’s Pop-Up Supper Club dinner at Holman Ranch on Sunday, July 28, where a portion of the ticket price will go to the agency.
“It’s always heart-warming for me to realize what the community will do to support the food bank,” says Sunny, adding, “I always tell my staff, no matter what happened today, what challenges we had, someone ate because of our efforts.”
Similarly, she says, when you support the food bank in any way, such as by attending an event like the upcoming Pop-Up Supper Club, you can know that “your contribution allowed someone to eat.”
The Holman Ranch and Edible Monterey Bay Magazine Pop-Up Supper Club takes place Sunday, July 28 at 6 p.m. at Holman Vineyard. Tickets are $95. To RSVP, call 831-659-2640 or buy tickets online here or click the Paypal button below. For more information about the Food Bank for Monterey County, visit foodbankformontereycounty.org.
Elizabeth Limbach is an award-winning journalist living in Santa Cruz, California. In this fruitful region and beyond, she finds the intersections of food, ag, health and the environment to be the most intriguing realms to write about. A bookworm and vegan foodie, the San Diego native has lived in Santa Cruz for a decade, relishing its redwood forests, fresh produce, delicious wines, and sparkling sea.