June 22, 2008

Tri-City Food Banks Struggling to Meet Demands

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

Jun. 22--Michelle and Larry Smith took a step last week they thought they'd never have to take again when they walked into the Kennewick Food Bank looking for a few staples to stretch their limited family budget.

It had been 480 days since they had been to the food bank, but with skyrocketing fuel and food prices, they had little choice.

"If we get a little extra money, it goes in our gas tank," Michelle Smith said while pushing a cart loaded with items such as bread and pasta.

Their story is a common one, said Onie Rendell, manager of the Kennewick Food Bank.

She and her staff mark on a calendar how many families they serve each day, and how many never have been to the food bank before. The numbers have been climbing upward since the first of the year.

"This year there was maybe one day with no one new," Rendell said. "I truly think that people who were making it before are having trouble. What was going for food now goes for gas."

But as families are squeezed, so are the food banks.

Art King, executive director of Tri-Cities Food Banks, said the food banks in Kennewick, Richland and Benton City are seeing a rise in demand, which means he's spending more on food than ever before.

The three food banks have an average yearly budget of $70,000, but King expects to spend $100,000 or more this year.

And Bob Zinsli, operations manager for the Richland Food Bank, said he's had to cut back on the amount of meat he gives to families because the demand is growing, but the budget isn't.

"For a long time I have been providing enough meat for two meals, based on family size," Zinsli said. "I have had to cut down to basically one and a fraction because I just don't have enough protein product on hand."

King said staples like peanut butter, pasta and rice also are in shorter supply because prices have gone up so much.

"The price of pasta went up from 15 cents a pound to 56 cents a pound in six months," King said. "The same pressures our clients are getting, we're getting too."

Anne Montgomery of Golden Age Food Share in Pasco said she's having trouble feeding the estimated 420 families of seniors who come in each week.

"Boy do we need food," Montgomery said. "We need help. We definitely need help."


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