Area food banks say the demand for supplemental food has increased and people’s diets include more safety net food, while a study in Tuolumne County has shown there is a need for calcium in local food pantries.
The ATCAA Food Bank in Jamestown last fall had a Pepperdine University internist conduct a needs assessment throughout local food pantries and found the levels of calcium provided was grossly insufficient, said Lee Kimball, ATCAA Food Bank director.
The ATCAA Food Bank provides food assistance to 8,000 to 11,000 people per month, mostly children, senior citizens and the disabled, she said.
However, more and more families are needing food assistance to get to the end of the month, and even then, some still can’t make it, Kimball said.
With increasing numbers of people relying on what’s called, “safety net” food, it’s become the Food Bank’s responsibility to provide a healthy diet, Kimball said.
With current health issues like obesity and Type 2 diabetes, it’s become even more important to provide good, healthy and fresh food, Kimball said.
Before the recession, the average Food Bank patron needed about three days worth of food to get them through to the end of the month, and it wasn’t such a health issue to give out boxes of macaroni and cheese, Kimball said.
“It’s not OK for 10 days,” she said.
The needs assessment found the safety net food provided in local pantries to be sufficient in proteins, good fats and carbohydrates, as well as micro-nutrients like iron. However, calcium was very lacking, Kimball said.
Both the ATCAA and Resource Connection Food Bank in San Andreas work with America’s First Harvest and now provide fresh produce to patrons.
However, calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, yogurt and fortified cereals are much needed by both pantries.
Lack of calcium in diets can cause dental and bone problems, Kimball said.
ATCAA had some dedicated dairy fundraisers and three Leadership Tuolumne County fundraisers gathered 2,000 pounds of dairy, but the actual need is six times that monthly, Kimball said.
“One pound a month (of cheese) could change their lives,” Kimball said of families in the “safety net.”
Resource Connection Food Bank director Jeannie Hayward said the program hasn’t conducted a needs assessment like ATCAA but said the demographics between Calaveras and Tuolumne counties are similar enough to know Calaveras needs calcium as well, especially since dairy products are hardly ever donated to the Resource Connection.
The food banks are also seeking monetary donations to buy shelf-stable milk that is often distributed to children, Kimball said.
It’s expensive and ATCAA is trying to go in on a truckload with other food banks in the state, Kimball said.
The food bank can go through one pallet of shelf-stable milk in six to eight weeks, she said.
The Resource Connection is also seeking dairy foods, soups, canned meats and peanut butter, Hayward said.
March set a record for the Resource Connection, which served 997 people, the most people it’s ever served in one month, Hayward said.
Hayward said the food bank asks people to visit every 30 days and, if they need more assistance, to go to area food pantries.
“We’re finding even after they’ve accessed those, they’re still running out of food, even with food stamps, they’re not making it through the month,” Hayward said.
“For some reason this year, I’m seeing it (need) climb. We could hardly keep up with ourselves in March,” Hayward said.
“We’re going to need a lot more people after this to stay on it,” Kimball said of the local need for food assistance.