Mike Mallory is one of them. The director of Second Harvest Food Bank for five years said the cupboard is as bare as he’s seen it. That’s a problem for the Manteca-based agency that provides supplemental food for charities up and down the Central Valley.
“I have never seen it like this,” Mallory said.
Pallets usually packed with cereal were barren Thursday, Sept. 29, a sight Mallory says is an indicator that demand is growing at the same time supply is dwindling.
“This is something that’s hard for me to say, because we’ve been very fortunate the past three, four years. … Our major food donors are getting smarter,” Mallory said, explaining that the stagnant economy has put the pinch on big companies that usually donate to outfits like Second Harvest. “They have to; they’re running businesses.
“Businesses are trying to survive. But we are still trying to feed these people.”
Delayed federal money has also hampered local relief agencies.
Renee Reece, board president of Tracy Interfaith Ministries, said money for food aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been approved but not delivered, meaning 10 percent of the Tracy charity’s budget is missing in action.
“It’s a big chunk,” Reece said, “especially with the growth we’re seeing.”
That growth, she explained, is in need. August was one of the busiest Augusts Tracy Interfaith has seen, Reece said, and the holiday surge promises an even bigger increase in folks seeking help.
And Reece said it’s not just the indigent seeking help: More and more clients are unemployed workers who have run through their savings.
“They’ve exhausted all of their resources, and we’re their last resort,” Reece said.
It’s a story familiar to agencies all over San Joaquin County, where unemployment in August stood at 16.1 percent, down from 17.4 percent in July but still 5 percentage points above the national average.
“Since 2008 in general, we’ve had an increase in our clientele every year. We definitely don’t have a surplus (of food),” said Darrin Blant, assistant manager at the Stockton Emergency Food Bank.
The Stockton food bank supplies other area pantries when it can and just this week sent a shipment of canned goods to Tracy Interfaith. But as Interfaith volunteer John Day pointed out, the meat freezer is empty (save for hot dogs), while the waiting room at the Grant Line Road charity is full.
Reece and Linda Gleason said that while many local stores have kept Interfaith supplied with breads — they mentioned Costco, WinCo, Save Mart, Grocery Outlet and Starbucks by name — it’s a constant struggle to keep staples like rice, beans, pasta, vegetables and meat in good supply.
And with the holidays ahead, the task will only get harder. Not only will food be in greater demand, but places like Tracy Interfaith will need more volunteers to handle what could be a record-setting season.
Luckily, Gleason said, Tracy is a generous town filled with people willing to help.
“There’s just so many people in this community who help that you don’t even see,” Gleason said.
“We are very blessed,” Reece added.
Still, Mallory and others worry it could be a cheerless winter for many in San Joaquin County if something doesn’t change soon.
“We’ve got a lot of awareness,” Mallory said. “We just need food.”