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Food For All?

By Gabe Meline

Sonoma County food pantries this year have been deluged with requests from those in need, even while donations are down, reports the Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB), making this year's annual food drive more important than ever.

According to a recent report released by the Department of Agriculture, 700,000 children went hungry in the United States at some point in 2007, up more than 50 percent from 2006. Those numbers have hit close to home, with demand for food increasing exponentially at a local level over the past few months. "We're stretched," says David Goodman, executive director of the REFB, the largest food bank between San Francisco and Oregon. "We can't serve the pantries that operate in every community of the county unless everyone pitches in."

In Santa Rosa, the FISH pantry (Friends in Service Here) has seen increases from 3,500 requests for help per month to over 5,200 in the last two years, says FISH's Ron Shirley. It's not just the economic downturn, says Shirley; rising food costs play their part as well. "Pasta is up. Rice is up through the ceiling. Cereal is up," he says. "A box of cereal that weighs a pound costs $4. That's ridiculous. People just can't afford to buy what they used to."

Steve Bousshard, a volunteer at Neighbors Organized Against Hunger in Rohnert Park, notes that their demand has skyrocketed. "We were serving 160 to 180 families every week last year," he says. "Now we're serving from 240 to 280 families—and these are families with two, three, four and five members."

At the Sebastopol Inter-Church pantry recently, demand was so high that volunteers had to stop answering the phone to fill orders. At St. Philip's Church in Occidental, requests for help among single men nearly doubled between August and September. It's not just Sonoma County that's hurting, either; the REFB works with over a hundred similar agencies, providing food to pantries in Lake, Humboldt, Mendocino and Del Norte counties.

Luckily, there are numerous ways for people to help. Donations of nonperishable foods are accepted in REFB barrels located throughout the county at schools, stores and businesses, most notably at supermarkets like G&G, Lucky, Whole Foods and Safeway, and other stores such as Friedman's Home Improvement and Longs Drugs. Canned or packaged food only—no homemade food or glass containers.

Cash donations are always accepted, either online at or by sending a check to REFB, 3320 Industrial Drive, Santa Rosa, CA, 95403. Those wanting to make a donation by phone, or to otherwise get involved by volunteering in the warehouse or starting a food drive in their area, can call 707.523.7900.

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