Hunger on the rise in countyBy Yunmi Choi
Behind San Mateo County's image of wealth and prosperity, a growing number of its residents may be going hungry.
"There's this huge perception that the county is this affluent community," said Jenny Luciano, spokeswoman for the Second Harvest Food Bank. "The problem of hunger is very hidden behind that image."
For the past two years, the food bank saw a 70 percent increase in demand for its services.
"The economy hit the county fairly hard," Luciano said. "And it's been compounded by the loss of jobs in the travel industry as a result of Sept. 11."
Contrary to popular belief, Luciano said most the people who need the food bank's services are low-income families. About 12 percent are seniors and the remainder are individuals.
These are people who are just barely making ends meet, Luciano said.
Every day, the group distributes food to 377 sites throughout the county. Each month, sites like Shelter Network, the King Center and the Samaritan House serve about 48,000 people collectively.
During the holiday season, that number jumps to about 58,000.
At the Self Help for the Elderly center in San Mateo, the economic downturn has increased the number of seniors taking advantage of the lunch program, said center coordinator Yuen Leu. More than 40 people flock to the center in Central Park every day; some days, the numbers peak at about 90.
The food bank defines "self sufficiency" as a family of four with an income of $70,000; a whopping 33 percent of the county's population is living at or below that level. That translates to about 230,000 people out of a population of 702,000.
There are many people who don't take advantage of the food bank's services, however, because of cultural or language barriers.
"There's a big pride issue for a lot of families," Luciano said. "They're just adamant about not receiving assistance. But the people who suffer in those cases are the children."
The food bank nets about 35 percent of its food from community drives held throughout the year at local grocery stores like Safeway and Albertsons. The remainder of donations come from manufacturers and retailers.
Despite the great demand for its services in San Mateo County, Luciano said the majority of the group's donations come from Silicon Valley.
"We need to raise awareness on the Peninsula about the situation," she said. "The demand is certainly outpacing revenue in San Mateo County."
Last year, the group held the largest food drive in the nation when it collected 1.9 million pounds of food and $3.3 million. This year, the group hopes to exceed those goals.
It's a no-brainer that the bank prefers non-perishables, but there are other specifics people should keep in mind when donating food.
High protein items like peanut butter and tuna fish are preferred, said Luciano.
Fruit juices, pasta, macaroni and cheese and canned meals are welcome as well. Chickens are preferred to turkeys, Luciano said, since many of the families receiving the food do not have the means of roasting a turkey.
To donate to the food bank or learn more about volunteering, call (866) 234-3663 or visit www.2ndharvest.net.
Copyright ©2003 San Mateo Daily Journal. Published 11/08/2003.