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25 percent more people are accessing food banks

Reporting on the hunger crisis in Spokane County communities and the response by Second Harvest to it, Melissa Cloninger, director of community and corporate relationships, said 25 percent more people were accessing food in their network of food bank agencies in 2012 compared to last year.

Melissa Cloninger

Melissa Cloninger reports on rise in hunger.

Speaking at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service on Thanksgiving Day at the Unitarian Church, she told of the beginnings of Second Harvest.

In 1971, an economic time similar to today, social worker Kay Porta realized that with so many people out of work and neighborhood food banks lacking the capacity to meet their needs, she should do something.

She gathered groups like the Greater Spokane Council of Churches to establish a reliable resource, helping found the Spokane Food Bank to provide food to 13 Spokane County food banks.

Last year, Second Harvest provided 20 million pounds of food to 250 food banks and meal programs in its network within its 51,000-square-mile service area.

Melissa invited participants at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service to imagine the 55,000 runners lined up for Bloomsday and transpose the image of that massive crowd into an image of 55,000 standing in line outside a food bank.

“Collectively, that’s how many people our network of food bank agencies are serving each week,” she said, “and the numbers continue to climb.”

In the last two years, there have been record-breaking numbers of people in need coming.

“Today, 100,000 children in Eastern Washington are uncertain where their next meal will come from,” Melissa said.

One woman’s husband lost his construction job a year ago.  She lost her job as a preschool teacher.  With four girls, they were struggling to keep their home.  They were finding creative ways to serve rice and beans. 

Out of resources, they came to a mobile food bank, where they received fruit and vegetables, pasta, bread and more.

“We can’t provide a job, but by putting food on the table for their families, we can help them free up their meager cash resources to cover their bills,” Melissa said.

The people facing hunger today, she said, are more likely to be educated, older, have a home, and have one or two jobs but be underemployed.

“They look like you, or you or you,” she said, pointing to people in the congregation.

“Hunger deprives children of more than food.  It’s hard for children to learn when they are hungry,” Melissa said.

She added that teens who are hungry may make choices that will undermine them in the future.  Parents lose dignity and feel hopeless that they are unable to provide for their children.  Children feel a profound insecurity that may lead to mental health issues in the future.

In the face of those difficulties, Second Harvest has been able to provide more food and is on track to provide 22 million pounds of food in 2012. 

It is partnering with Washington State University to educate thousands of clients about healthy food choices on a shoestring and the benefits of eating healthful food, and to connect with other resources to meet their needs so they have a future.

“For every $1 you donate, we can provide five meals for hungry people,” Melissa said.  “The gift of food is a gift of hope, letting people know they are not alone in their struggle and that tomorrow will be better.  It is an investment in the future of our community and in the indomitability of the human spirit.”

In a telephone interview, Rod Wieber, chief resource officer, said he is finding that some people seeking help now say that they used to be donors and volunteers.

“It’s tough all over,” he said.  “The news says the economy is rebounding, but it’s hard to see those signs.”

Stories of clients and information about ways to give are available at For information, call 534-6678.

Copyright © December 2012 - The Fig Tree,