Hunger in Nevada County: More demand, fewer resources for local food distribution sites
Working families seem to be struggling more than ever to make ends meet, say staff members at two Nevada County nonprofit food distribution centers.
These organizations are facing their own struggles to meet the demand. The lights were out in the office at the Food Bank of Nevada County on Monday, and not because they were closed. The pared-down staff is doing everything they can to save money on utilities.
“We need money to pay for electricity for refrigeration, gas for our delivery trucks and propane for our forklifts,” said operations director Bob Dion. “These are critical expenses when it comes to getting food to people.”
Roughly 800 people sought out supplemental groceries in May at the Nevada County Food Bank’s Grass Valley food distribution center, said executive director Nicole McNeely. In July, the number jumped to roughly 1,000. This month it was 1,200.
“In one hour at our Grass Valley distribution center we were feeding roughly 1% of the county’s population,” said McNeely. “It was a shock — I realized that we were going to need to ask for more resources when it comes to overhead costs, warehouse staff, running trucks, unpacking food, recruiting volunteers and paying the administrative staff.”
In addition to their monthly food distribution program, which goes out to five locations, the food bank also provides nutritious snacks to 258 Nevada County classrooms regardless of income level, oversees the summer lunch program for low income children, and is now teaming up with Meals on Wheels to deliver groceries to home bound seniors.
But the bulk of new clients is the working poor, said McNeely, many of whom appear to be having a harder time making ends meet. Since the food bank recently publicized the fact that clients don’t have to be destitute to receive supplemental groceries, the nonprofit has seen an uptick in working individuals earning low wages.
Phil Alonso, executive director at Interfaith Food Ministry (IFM) in Grass Valley is seeing similar patterns. According to the most recent statistics available, in 2015 a total of 14,000 — or roughly 1 out of 7 Nevada County residents — were living in food-insecure households, but these numbers have most certainly risen.
“In the first half of 2019 we’ve seen 450 new families who have never come here before,” he said. “We’re definitely seeing an upward trend.”
There are many who have been in poverty for years, and there are seniors on fixed incomes, he added, but the newer “chunk” at IFM are those who are barely making it on their wages.
Children and seniors each compose about a quarter of IFM’s clientele. Adults are about half.
“Just one small expense, such as a rise in gas prices or a small medical expense, can tip that delicate balance and throw a family’s budget off,” Alonso said. “Some make just enough money so they don’t qualify for food stamps. Their kids can get Medi-Cal, but the parents can’t get medical insurance. They’re just a few paychecks away from a crisis.”
Stagnant wages, soaring rental costs and now the astronomical price of fire insurance are some of the factors McNeely and Alonso point to when it comes to the growing need for supplemental food. McNeely recently spoke to an individual whose fire insurance on their modest home ballooned from $800 to $6,000 a year, forcing her to sell.
To compound matters, nonprofits are seeing fewer donations. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a publication that examines the role nonprofits play in society, the new federal tax law doubled the standard deduction for individuals and imposed a $10,000 cap on the amount that individuals can deduct for state and local taxes they’ve paid.
“As a result, 28.5 million fewer Americans will itemize their deductions, according to projections by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation,” stated a January article by the National Council of Nonprofits. “Experts from across the political spectrum agree: The law significantly reduced tax incentives for Americans to give to the important work of charitable organizations across the country.”
This is not good news for nonprofits like the Food Bank of Nevada County and the Interfaith Food Ministry, which rely heavily on donations. Looking ahead, both McNeely and Alonso say they are worried about the lack of surplus when the holiday season arrives.
“We’re working longer hours and weekends, trying to write as many grants as we can and look for corporate donations,” said McNeely. “But we apply, then hope for a donation six months later. Unfortunately the need is now. The biggest thing we need right now is money. We’ve downsized our office staff and our warehouse staff is working longer hours, dripping with sweat. But we have to make sure these food distributions take place.”
“I say give what you can — even if you don’t have money, you can donate your time and passion,” echoed Alonso. “It’s definitely tough out there for a lot of folks.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com
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