Going Hungry in Marin County, California

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


Current Situation

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?

Deborah Phelan is a journalist and educator. This commentary originally appeared on Daily Kos.


I doubt there is a single state or even a single county not struggling with the problem right now. And the majority of people who lose their homes do not show up at shelters. Back in June, USA Today did a story on national homelessness which included the results of a survey on where homeless people in 5 states tended to stay after becoming homeless. The figures varied by state, but only 20 to 40% reported staying at emergency or transitional shelters.

But shelters are the safety net, such as it is. And they're bursting.

In Hawaii, "The number of homeless people staying in Hawaii shelters jumped 22 percent to 6,733 people between the 2005 and 2007 fiscal years, a study being released today shows." (Nov 18, 2008 )

Springfield Missouri reports that its shelters are filled to capacity and one shelter turned away "over 100 families, women with children, just last month." (October 23, 2008).

In New York City, "more families entered the homeless shelter system in September than in any other month since data has been collected," and a total of more than 28,000 people were in shelters. (October 29, 2008).

In New Jersey, homeless shelters are seeing an unusual increase in people seeking their service, many directly because of job loss and/or eviction; many are still employed but unable to swing housing. (Nov. 9, 2008).

There are similar stories from Florida, Texas, Washington state, everywhere across the country.

I wrote a piece for WTW last month on the increase in homelessness (for people and pets), hunger, and domestic abuse and here where I live--where NY, Massachusetts, and Vermont meet--it is very bad. There has also been a noticeable increase in everything from general crime to public displays of anger and aggressiveness.

And, yes, it's going to get much worse, especially as the state and local governments begin to really feel the pinch of vanishing tax revenue.

How do we go about this? If the "this" is dealing with homelessness/hunger, a coordinated, probably national approach is the only way to have a real beneficial impact. There are a ridiculous number of empty houses and other buildings in the USA now. Some cities have been deliberately razing many of them to keep the area from "deteriorating." It doesn't take much insight to recognize that these empty buildings could serve as homes for people who need them. A coordinated effort to rehab the most dilapidated into livable condition could be one prong of an effort to create jobs and housing at the same time. There's the possibility of issuing housing vouchers that would allow the newly homeless to seek shelter other than in "shelters."

In the long run, of course, what we need is an economic system that actually works at least well enough that the vast, vast majority of people have jobs that pay enough for them to at least eat, obtain housing and basic health care, and maybe even buy a book or magazine or two.

its not shortage of food. its selfish lazy depressed greedy people who hear they can sget tuff for free so they come. its not that they are depsrate for it. and what they get is not quality so its not going to make or break them anyway.

My ex-wife and son served at a church food bank two weeks ago.
My son has lead a charmed, sheltered life up to this point...

Some of the stories he told me about recepients horrified even my jaded eye.

its not shortage of food. its selfish lazy depressed greedy people who hear they can sget tuff for free so they come. its not that they are depsrate for it. and what they get is not quality so its not going to make or break them anyway.

Listen to the Ayn Rand/Boortz/Limbaugh crowd much, visitor? What you said is not only demonstrable crap, but reflects much more negatively on you than it does on the homeless and foodless that you would so strongly like to make go away. You're carrying on a long and shameful tradition of holding the powerless responsible for their lack of power.

Just disgusting.

It's very alarming that even Marin County, one of the richest regions in the US, is having shortage of food. Food is very important in our life. Without it, it will cause chaos, hunger and death to all of us. In relation to food issues, last Easter we had leftover of ham during dinner/lunch, like me, some people are in search of leftover ham recipes. With enough recipes, leftover ham can add up to a week or two worth of food like ham casserole, ham soup, or the ubiquitous ham sandwich. You may end up not having to think about payday cash advance loans for groceries for a while. Those portions that you don't use right away, you should cube and freeze. It would almost be worth getting cash advances for some good leftover ham recipes. Let's try to spend wisely and especially in our foods. Hope we can survive it and move on in this economy downturn.