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Area food banks seeing 'unprecedented' need

Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County
The SLO Food Bank reports an 154% increase in local food insecuirty.

There's been a growing surge in people relying on food banks since the start of the pandemic; now with the holidays approaching, food banks say the need is critical.

Food banks across the country are reporting a dramatic increase in people needing help. Andrew Cheyne with the California Association of Food Banks said they’ve never seen a need like this before.

“This is truly unprecedented," Cheyne said. "If we think about the [2008] Great Recession as breaking the barriers to what we thought was possible, now we are looking at something that is literally off the charts to what we saw.”

Cheyne said even after seven months, the crisis continues, especially with the direction the virus is going.

“Food banks are experiencing double to even triple demand," Cheyne said. "To put that in perspective, that means we are talking about 10 million hungry Californians.”

Garret Olson with the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo said he doesn’t expect those numbers to drop anytime soon.

“Food insecurity in San Luis Obispo County has climbed by 154%," Olson said. "Before the pandemic, we were feeding about one in six, and that’s more than doubled. It’s absolutely tragic.”

Olson said the face of hunger is changing. Some of the SLO Food Bank's clients have never had to rely on help from food banks or nonprofits before.

“It’s actually becoming more familiar," Olson said. "It’s your favorite shop owner, or gig worker, artist, or somebody that was just barely getting by before the pandemic.”

Olson said while it may be tempting to try to donate household groceries, right now with pandemic safety protocols, the SLO Food Bank cannot accept in-person donations, and that food banks can stretch donation dollars further to buy what they need in bulk directly from suppliers.

“We are encouraging people to donate as sustaining donors," Olson said. "We are just asking people to lean in, this is a really tragic community problem and it’s only going to be solved by the community coming together.”

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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