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'Our busiest summer in the history of the organization:' Sacramento area food banks feel the impact of inflation

About 700,000 people in the Sacramento area are food insecure. Here are some organizations making a difference.

Staff (ABC10)

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Published: 5:26 PM PST November 22, 2022
Updated: 5:26 PM PST November 22, 2022

In years past, Thanksgiving has been a time when many people volunteer their time to "feed the hungry." 

For a long time, there‘s been an image of who “the hungry" is. 

But the reality is, with the rising costs of living, the hungry are your neighbors.

About 700,000 people in our area or one in 11 Californians are food insecure. They don't have enough food on the table.

Recently, ABC10's Van Tieu spoke to those in the community making a difference. She met a family who is no stranger to facing food insecurity.

"It’s this um, you know, ritual," said Martha Pacheco, Food Bank volunteer and client. "Every month, my little ones are asking me, mommy, when is the day for the food bank?"

Every Saturday, Martha Pacheco and her children help pack food at the Contra Costa Food Bank. 

It’s their way of giving back when their family fell on hard times during the great recession in the early 2000's. She remembers it like yesterday. 

“We lost the house," Pacheco said.

She says they were able to get back on their feet, but in 2020 — again — their family needed a helping hand. When the pandemic forced shutdowns, he husband, a commercial truck driver lost work.

“He called me, and he said, this is the last load I have- everything is closed," she said. "The jobs is closed. So we don’t know when we start again. So with the pandemic, again. The food bank is my support.”

Even as pandemic restrictions waned, Pacheco is among a record number of families in our area seeking help from food banks. Finding themselves living on the edge as the cost-of-living soars.

“Simple," Pacheco said. "The gas - it's too expensive.”

Inflation drives them to make difficult decisions.

“People are living paycheck to paycheck, very often, all you have to do is miss one or two paychecks," said Joel Sjostrom, food bank of Contra Costa and Solano president. "All of a sudden, you're trying to decide between paying rent, you know, or buying food.”

Sjostrom says its recent expansion into a 100,000-square-foot warehouse comes at a time when families are facing food insecurity at an alarming pace.

“We really need to continue to build our capacity because this is going to be here for the next few years, not the next few months,” Sjostrom said.

Thiis not unique. 

The Sacramento Food Bank also saw increased demand during the height of the pandemic, but Spokesman Kevin Buffalino says inflation hit families harder.

“So June, July, August was our busiest summer in the history of the organization," said Buffalino. "So we fed more people throughout those three months in that timeframe than we have in nearly 50 years.”

They're compounding issues that have sent families to the food bank as first-timers in very long distribution lines.

Food banks in the region are facing rising costs as well.

During the pandemic, federal funding helped food banks, but Buffalino says that money is phased out. Yet the reality remains, 1 in 5 Sacramentans are food insecure.

“Meaning they're not sure where their next nutritious meal is going to come from, they're not putting enough food on the table," said Buffalino.

Officials from the food banks serving Contra Costa, Solano, and Sacramento Counties say they're pushing for more help from government agencies.

“I think there's a there's an awareness out with our elected officials and the general public about food insecurity that we haven't had, maybe ever. And so with that, we anticipate good legislation USDA," said Sjostrom.

But in the meantime, they say community donations have been vital to helping to feed families in need. For every dollar donated to the food bank, they are able to feed five families.

Below in each chapter, you will find out about food banks across our region and how you can donate to make a difference in your community.

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