Going Hungry in Marin County, California
By Deborah Phelan
Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 05:23 PM
Reporting live from Marin County, one of the richest regions in the US. After a local newspaper last week reported on the growing shortages of food in Marin's food pantries, I started doing some good old fashioned investigating. Conclusion: The crisis we are facing here, where our local Food Bank is struggling to serve 1,700 people a month, must pale in comparison to what's going on in your neck of the woods.Here's my brief synopsis from the front lines in Marin and the steps I'm considering taking.
Report in and discuss what we can do about it.
Background on Marin County
Marin County was ranked the richest county in California in the 2000 census. By 2002, per capita personal income in Marin was 68,650, a 33.5% increase from 1997 and 222% of the national per capita income. By 2007, median income had raised to $83,870, elevating Marin to #8 on the list of richest counties with a population between 65,000 – 250,000.
Counties with populations 65,000-250,000
1 Hunterdon County, New Jersey $100,327
2 Calvert County, Maryland $95,134
3 Arlington County, Virginia $94,876
4 Stafford County, Virginia $87,629
5 Fauquier County, Virginia $84,888
6 Forsyth County, Georgia $84,872
7 Putnam County, New York $84,624
8 Marin County, California $83,870
Faced with cutbacks in funding from state and local government as well as nonprofits such as the formidable Buck Foundation, Ann Rodgers, executive director of the Marin County Food Bank has no idea how her organization can make up these deficits to address the massive emergency needs of county residents who need food aid.
Right now, she's working at finding individuals to hold down shifts at the organization's annual Christmas Tree food drop at a local mall, grappling with mind-numbing budget cuts and how to fund a full time driver to drop off food at some nine pantries in the county, and the politics involved in addressing the nutritional deficits facing seniors who face losing eligibility for federally funded meals if she successfully enrolls them in the Food bank's brown bag program.
Last week, an article in the county's sole daily, the Marin IJ, reported the impact the financial crisis is having on the county's food pantries:
"I've been here since 1991, and we've never had anything like this," said Dave Cort, executive director at the San Geronimo Community Center, which has seen a 30 percent increase in the number of people visiting its center's food pantry in the past two months. "People who have never needed these services before are right in line with people we've been serving for a long time."
In another part of the county,445 people were using the local food pantry in September, up from 186 the previous year.
And in San Rafael, the county's largest 'city':
On Thursday, the Salvation Army of San Rafael unloaded its monthly shipment of surplus food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture - a delivery that normally lasts from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. By 10:30, almost all of the agency's 90 bags of groceries had been claimed, while a half-dozen people continued to wait in line.
In fact, Cort, reports that in his bucolic town of Lagunitas, "I've seen close to five people in the last four months living either in their cars or in a tent," Cort said. "I take a walk with my dog at 7 a.m., and see two or three people with backpacks coming out of the hills."
I spoke with the San Geronimo food panty this morning, where they report requests for 265 Thanksgiving meals, where they currently only have resources to fulfill 100 of these requests.
Like other pantries in Marin, San Geronomo is searching for a way to transport supplies from the Novato based Food Bank ... the funds just aren't there to pay driver to move food from the bank to the nine pantries it services.
Rodgers reports that Meals on Wheels is currently being operated by a German company which prepares the meals in Los Angeles and ships them to Marin. Local organizations, Whistlestop Wheels and Catholic Relief Services, ran major deficits in attempting to supply meals at a budget of $2 per meal.
What's wrong with this picture?
A diary last night on Project Censored 2009 list of unreported news events pinpointed the shocking revelation that CARE is no longer utilizing US Food Aid because of our policy of 'monetizing' our international food assistance programs. (I wrote about it here)
The Marin Food Bank relies on funding from state and local governments as well as nonprofit and charitable agencies.Dealing with the 'status quo' in American policy, whether it be at the international or the community level, just doesn't cut it in these days of global economic crisis and famines. (I've begun outlining the background of the situation in California in a blog Califoria: Homeless and Hungry where I discuss San Franciso's Victory Garden Program and begin delving into FDRs WPA and barter as an alternative form of transactions.)
Proposed Plan of Action
Yes, we are all waiting for word from the Obama campaign on next steps. Plouffe sent out a survey yesterday. Moveon is stating local events throughout the US tonight.
In my community, along with the local obama groups I belong to, I also participated as a trainer in the MarinSwingState Phone Bank. Prior to the last 4 days of the campaign, we reached out to individuals in our database who were local Obama supporters and encouraged them to come to headquarters to make GOTV calls to swing states through 7pm Nov. 4. Over 700 callers made 126,000 calls.
I'm attending tonight's local Moveon event and Sunday we are having a potluck for the swingstate volunteers. Between now and Monday, when I will be speaking again with Ann Rogers, I want to have a plan of action laid out to engage volunteers in working together to address the problems facing our communities across America in terms of homelessness, job loss and hunger.
Remember those money bombs we are so good at here at Kos? Maybe something like this, calling on $5 donations, making it easy to contribute? How about getting volunteers to drive trucks for food banks, how about finding ways to implement victory gardens in communities across America, teach rainwater harvesting, get attornies involved in their neighborhoods helping famlilies at risk of losing their homes; real estate agents negotiating the use of vacant properties to house the homeless.
True, many of these are bold, big, maybe unrealistic steps. Right now, I want to deal with the food problem.
Oh, one more thing: More bad news is heading this way. Four out of 10 Bay Area employers contacted in a survey anticipate cutting jobs within six months, according to a dismal report on the region's business pulse being issued today.As if things weren't bad enough in California, A survey of 509 executives, conducted in the first week of November by the Bay Area Council, found that business confidence in the nine-county Bay Area had slumped to its lowest level since the group first began taking quarterly readings in the summer of 2001.
What are your ideas? How do we go about this?