Collision of high prices threatens Bay Area residents, food banks trying to help


Faced with soaring inflation and the end of most pandemic financial assistance, more Bay Area residents are turning to food banks just as the nonprofits are struggling with rising prices that make it harder for them to help those in need.


The region’s low-income families are looking at a pile up of problems: gas prices are well over $5 a gallon, the cost of food has shot up, statewide eviction protections have ended for most renters and inflation is at its highest point in more than 20 years.


Last month alone, a food distribution site in San Jose run by Catholic Charities went from serving 780 households in the first week of March to 880 households by the last – nearing the highest distribution since the start of the pandemic. Need has shown no signs of easing in April.


“You just see the domino effect of all of these problems that make it so much harder for folks,” said Leslie Bacho, CEO of Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, the South Bay’s largest food bank. “People are just living very, very stressful lives trying to piece it together.”


Nearly 30% of Bay Area residents reported experiencing serious financial hardship due to the recent spike in prices, according to a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California. That number jumps to 43% for households with children across the state who no longer get expanded tax breaks after Congress failed to extend the child tax credit.


“We are barely making it,” said Alberto Farias, a 35-year-old construction worker from San Jose, who waited in line at Our Lady of Refuge in the city last week to pick up food with his wife, infant, and 6-year-old daughter. The family has drained their savings and fears an unpredictable medical or car repair bill could bankrupt them.


It’s always been hard, he said. “Now it’s really hard. My hair is falling out.”


Farias was in one of a few hundred cars that lined up in the parish’s parking lot and spilled into the street. High school students in neon-pink vests loaded boxes of food into trunks as they earned their community service credits. Nearby, Catholic Charities offered rental assistance and immigration support.


But while more and more cars pour into food distribution sites across San Jose, the nonprofits they rely on for boxes filled with around $55 worth of vegetables, grains, milk, eggs, and meat are watching inflation threaten the amount of help they can provide.


“We are going through our budget for next year right at this time and we have to take a hard look at what we are providing,” said Bacho. Second Harvest of Silicon Valley has provided food to around 400,000 people a month since March 2020. “As people start to feel like it’s getting back to normal” with the pandemic, she said, “we are still serving 400,000 a month, and it’s all getting more expensive.”

On top of everything else, Bacho said, a bird flu epidemic has already doubled the price of eggs since early February – a key protein staple that the food bank imports by nearly a truckload every day. With less than 10% of Second Harvest’s funding coming from the government, said Bacho, there’s more pressure on the organization to fundraise.


Catholic Charities has been slapped with a $1,000 increase in cost in one month due to higher gas prices, said Araceli Gonzalez, program director of disaster services.


The growing insecurity of those who need help worries Gonzalez, who remembers turning away 250 cars one week early in the pandemic. “I never want to feel that feeling – turning away so many families, it scares me every month.”


PPIC found that over half of Californians are somewhat or very concerned about affording their rent or mortgage.


And with prices blowing up, “it’s been harder and harder for people to maintain a quality of life that they are used to,” said Rachel Lawler, a survey analyst at the PPIC.


Franco Murrillo, 34, who also lined up at Our Lady of Refuge last week, has two children and spends 70% of his paycheck on food, he said, and the rest on rent. The family relies on Murrillo’s income as a painter because child care costs, which have also been pushed up by the pandemic, are too expensive. His wife watches the kids instead of working.


“It’s scary because I come from Argentina,” he said. “You can expect something like this in that country, but here it’s weird.”


Source: The Mercury News

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