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San Francisco Business Times: One in four SF residents goes hungry as food banks fall short

November 19, 2013

Reposted from the San Francisco Business Times
Written by Renée Frojo
Article originally published by the San Francisco Business Times, Nov. 21, 2013
View the original story here >>

Despite San Francisco’s seemingly endless prosperity, more than a quarter of its residents are still going to bed hungry — and the numbers are growing.

According to two disheartening reports released Wednesday, one in four San Francisco residents — or 28 percent — are living below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and at risk of not getting enough nutritious food to eat.

As those numbers grow, many nonprofit food programs have found themselves struggling to meet increasing demand. In recent years, the number of meals provided by San Francisco nonprofits grew from 27.1 million in 2007 to 34.3 million in 2011.

Organizations that typically provide Thanksgiving meals for the poor and homeless are especially feeling the pinch this year ahead of the holidays.

The San Francisco and Marin Food Banks, for instance, are still short approximately 800 turkeys, while the Alameda County Food Bank is in need of 4,000 turkeys, hams and chickens. With need continuing to spike, organizers are nervous about meeting their marks this year.

As even more cuts in the federal food stamp program take effect, many are concerned that hunger in San Francisco will only increase.

On Wednesday, San Francisco city officials, nonprofit leaders and representatives for several organizations gathered at City Hall to hear findings from the two reports, commissioned by the San Francisco Food Security Task Force and Tenderloin Task Force, about the growing number of people at risk of “food insecurity” in the city.

Causes cited for the growth in hungry people include San Francisco’s rapidly rising cost of living, insufficient healthy and affordable food retail outlets and lack of housing units with kitchens.

According to the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, a small family of three needs at least a $73,000 annual income to makes ends meet in the city.

For those that don’t even come close to making that, the state does provide food stamp benefits though its CalFresh program. However, according to the reports, the program is inaccessible, underutilized and inadequate. For example, there are more than 45,000 low-income seniors and disabled adults who received supplement security income in the city are not eligible to receive CalFresh benefits.

While the outlook is dreary, there are a number of things that can be done to turn the situation around, said Paula Jones, director of food systems at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and member of the San Francisco Food Security Task Force.

“We believe San Francisco can be a model city that can achieve food security and zero hunger among its residents, and today’s hearing is an important step toward that vision,” said Jones. “We have all the key ingredients necessary to move forward: strong collaboration among government, non-profit agencies, and the private sector, robust food programs that can reach vulnerable populations, as well as an understanding of the poor health implications of food insecurity.”

The organizations involved propose to do this by increasing participation in the state’s food stamp program, providing more support to local food organizations, creating a local food supplement that can be used to buy healthy food and increasing the number of housing units in San Francisco with complete kitchens.

Right now, it’s estimated that nearly 60 percent of homeless people in San Francisco take advantage of free meal program — up five percent from 2011. Neighborhoods with the highest rate of food insecurity include Tenderloin, SOMA and Mid-Market.