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Food banks overwhelmed with demand

A donation bin sits near shelves with canned foods at the San Francisco Food Bank in San Francisco.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: This, of course, is the day when we give thanks for the bounty available to so many in this country. But as the recession and its after effects drag on, a recent survey from the Food Research and Action Center found almost one in five Americans struggled to afford food for themselves and their families over the past year. Food banks across the country are reporting record demand. And they're seeing lots of new faces -- people who never thought they'd end up in line for free food.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports from Washington.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: The government calls it "food insecurity." A bureaucratic way of describing those who don't know where their next meal is coming from. Earlier this month, the Agriculture Department released a report saying more than 50 million Americans are "food insecure," including one in four children.

Ross Fraser sees the faces behind those numbers. He's a spokesman for Feeding America, a national network of food banks. Fraser recently visited a food bank in Orlando, Fla. It's operating in disaster mode.

Ross Fraser: They are putting out as much food as they would if they had just been hit by a hurricane, and you had lots of people left homeless and unable to work.

It's the same thing around where I live, in the Washington suburbs of Maryland.

Woman:

I need to turkeys, please!

I went to the Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg, Md. yesterday. The center handed out boxes of fresh produce and other staples to more than 400 families -- a record high.

Kim Damion is the executive director. She estimates that 60 percent of her clientele have jobs. She says some of them lost well-paying jobs and are now working for minimum wage.

Kim Damion: I had a tenured professor who told me he had been looking for work for over 18 months, and he took a job as an evening assistant manger in a grocery store.

Robert Mattia would gladly settle for minimum wage work. He started coming to the Manna food bank after losing his job delivering newspapers. He's applied for more than 100 jobs since then, with no luck.

Robert Mattia: I'm 52 years old. Why would they want to hire a 52-year-old when they can hire an 18- or 16-year-old for minimum wage -- even though I would work at minimum wage right now.

The economy is picking up. But not enough to push people like Mattia into well-paying jobs. David Resler is chief U.S. economist at Nomura Securities. Although we've had four straight quarters of growth, he says...

David Resler: It's still not the kind of recovery we'd like to see.

The kind that generates jobs that pay enough to keep people out of food lines.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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