With California residents increasingly relying on food stamp programs, food banks are ramping up efforts to feed the hungry this holiday season.
The number of people seeking help to buy food rose 22% last year, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. And activists worry that the number of families where hunger is an issue continues to increase.
Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, that means extra strain on food banks, many of which are already struggling to meet the needs of people who can't afford to purchase enough food for their families.
“In Southern California you can go without a home and survive,” said John Knapp, president of the Foodbank of Southern California. “But everyone needs to eat, and everybody needs to eat a healthy meal three times a day.”
The Foodbank of Southern California works to obtain and distribute food to its charitable agencies across the county.
The number of people who need food is growing just as some sources of donated food are dwindling.
Michael Flood, president of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, said reductions in supplies from federal programs meant to channel surplus food to charities has meant less for many food pantries - and less for the hungry to eat.
"The are certainly people who are turned away because there is not enough food," said Flood. "Families are asked to seek assistance from another agency."
Those who are under-employed are still implicated. As families struggle to make ends meet, more and more households have begun to rely on food programs.
“Even with two breadwinners in the family, they still can’t make it,” said Knapp.
Across the Southland, churches, synagogues, and soup kitchens with will be providing Thanksgiving meals to meet the growing demand.
But Knapp, of the Foodbank of Southern California, said he wished volunteers would show up all year round - not just during the holidays.
“The food we get has to be inspected, cleaned, sanitized and repacked – we need to do that every weekend," he said.
Looking to spread holiday cheer by helping those less fortunate in your community? Here is a list of food banks that are actively recruiting volunteers the holiday season.
The Foodbank of Southern California – 1444 San Francisco Avenue, Long Beach 90813
Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County – 8014 Marine Way, Irvine 92618
Westside Food Bank – 1710 22nd Street, Santa Monica 90404
The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank – 1734 E. 41st Street, Los Angeles 90058