On June 28, The Biden Administration warned of a global food security crisis related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which supplies about a fourth of the world’s wheat exports.
Food insecurity in California spiked to unprecedented levels statewide. More than 25% of California households or 10 million people are experiencing food insecurity, according to the California Association of Food Banks.
The crisis includes San Benito County, which is experiencing a food insecurity level of 29.4% among adults and 12% among children, according to the California Food Policy Advocate.
Linda Lampe, executive director of Hollister Community Outreach and My Father’s House, said food insecurity in San Benito County may be even greater than what she told Food Chain radio show host Michael Olson in a recent podcast. Lampe’s efforts to serve those experiencing food insecurity were highlighted in Olson’s Food Chain Radio Show podcast segment: Feeding and Serving the Hungry—The Food Angels, which asked the question, “Who will serve the hungry during the ‘it’s gonna be real’ food shortage?”
Lampe told BenitoLink when food was delivered July 2 at R.O. Hardin Elementary School she was not expecting many families to show up. She said that normally on the first Saturday of the month not as many people come because they just received their Department of Social Services Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards.
“I never know what to expect. People are getting less at the grocery store than before and I suppose that’s why so many showed up, while at the same time the EBT benefits are being reduced,” she said. “I think it’s only going to get worse. A lot of people have never been in a food line and I’m seeing more and more each time we take food out to distribute.”
Lampe told BenitoLink on July 5 she wanted to be on the podcast so more people would know the number of hungry is greater than most people know.
“We served more food than we normally do in the middle of the month,” she said about the July distribution. “We served between 218 and 225 families.”
Sarah Nordwick, director of the food bank, said the total numbers of those on the verge of hunger are as high or higher than Lampe’s estimates. She said the COVID relief benefits through the US Department of Agriculture expired June 30. Now she pays nearly $14,000 a month for the food that is given out to nearly 19,000 people in the county. According to her estimates, the number of people the food bank serves has increased over 536% since 2005.
Lampe has been serving the homeless, the poor, and now the middle class of San Benito County for 16 years and knows firsthand what will be in store for everyone if the president’s prediction comes true. When podcast host Olson asked her, “How hungry are we?” she responded, “Hunger is already with us.”
She said before the COVID pandemic approximately 23% of households in San Benito County were food insecure. She said between March and December 2020 that number reached 36%. As the federal waivers to provide school lunches ends, she said it’s a scramble to find food.
Lampe pointed out the irony that in the heart of the “salad bowl of America,” people are experiencing a food crisis. But it’s not always apparent that people are going hungry, she said, adding that it’s important to “recognize hunger” when you see it.
Pride or shame keep many from asking for help, she said. She added that people experiencing a food crisis need to allow someone else to help and serve them. She said her organization does not ask for identification or their income status. They ask only two questions: “How are you today?” and “How many are in your family?”
Lampe said homelessness is different in rural areas than in cities because there are a lot of farmworkers going hungry during the offseason. In 2008, when she first started serving the homeless Lampe said she did all the cooking of “comfort foods” she learned to make while growing up on a farm in Tennessee. Then she and her husband, Patrick, would go out to the riverbeds and camps to feed the homeless and migrant workers. Over the years, she said the numbers of those they served escalated.
“Last year, we were up to over 1,100 families a week,” she told BenitoLink. “That translates to between 5,000 to 6,000 people per week on top of our homeless population.”
She said the serving is done through “food angels,” most of whom are homeless, who are part of the 100% volunteer effort, including herself and Patrick. She said in 2020 they mortgaged their home for $60,000 and maxed out their credit cards to keep up the effort. They also received a $25,000 grant from the Community Foundation of San Benito County, along with $20,000 in small contributions.
Lampe told BenitoLink people need to understand there is not a food shortage issue; there is a food distribution issue. She said food distribution organizations are vying for the millions of federal and state dollars and faith-based nonprofit organizations such as Hollister Community Outreach have to compete against larger, better-funded organizations.
“There’s a big fight for numbers of who’s serving food,” she said. “I know it takes money to operate. To us, the $120,000 that it took last year to get that done is about $10,000 a month to serve 880 families.” She extrapolated this by an average of five members per family that added up to 17,600 people each month.
In contrast, San Francisco budgeted $287.7 million to the Department of Homelessness and Supporting Housing, according to the city’s proposed FY 2021-2022 budget. There are an estimated 8,000 homeless in the city. On a per capita basis, that works out to approximately $35,962 per homeless person annually.
According to the 2019 census, there were 283 homeless families in the county. The county conducted a homeless count in January but the numbers, which are expected to increase, are scheduled to be release next month.
Lampe said no one is immune from experiencing a food crisis. She described how an 80-year-old woman told her she was embarrassed to ask for food, but because of inflation she could not afford to buy enough to get her through to her next Social Security check. Lampe also described how she and Patrick took food to a family who live in an $800,000 home in Hollister, have three cars in the driveway, but had lost their jobs, and for the first time in their lives needed help getting food.
Lampe said as long as she is able she will continue to feed people wherever she finds them, whether on the streets of Hollister or in the riverbed.
“I can’t change the world, but I can change the world around me,” she said.
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