Economy keeping food banks busy

Erika Jimenez has lived on $803 a month for four years, but with rising food and gas prices, she is at a loss for how to survive.

Feeling squeezed by the economy, Jimenez, 55, recently went to get a free bag of groceries at CALL Primrose Center, a food pantry in Burlingame.

“Before, it was not so bad because my gas bill was $40, but now it’s almost double, and I have to limit myself to my doctor’s appointments and nothing else,” said Jimenez, who lives on Social Security Disability Insurance. “It’s ridiculous — it’s not enough to do anything.”

Jimenez is one of about 4,500 San Mateo County residents who have recently turned to food pantries for help.

Second Harvest Food Bank, which supplies food to 197 pantries, community centers and churches that serve 45,000 people in San Mateo County, has seen a 7 percent to 10 percent increase in clients since the beginning of the year. According to representitive Lynn Crocker, the nonprofit anticipates further increases in the summer.

“Food and gas prices are rising, and our client base is either seniors on fixed incomes or working families who are living paycheck to paycheck, so that extra $50 a month really does hit them,” she said.

For some food pantries, the numbers are staggering. From July through March, North Peninsula Food Pantry and Dining Center in Daly City gave groceries to 6,100 people, a 45 percent increase from the same period the previous fiscal year, in which it provided groceries to 3,600 people.

The pantry’s executive director, Denise Kelly, said she serves mostly seniors and low-income families, including many Filipino immigrants.

“It seems to hit the bottom of the ladder first,” she said. “We’re fortunate because we have a great pool of volunteers, so we’re able to do things that way.”

Local schools will hold food drives in the coming weeks to help the pantry cope with the rising demand.

The county is also seeing a rise in the number of people applying for food stamps, according to Shannon Speak, human services manager for San Mateo County.

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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