By LENORE RUTHERFORD
Hunger is a reality in the foothills, and it's getting worse, Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency Food Bank Director Lee Kimball said recently.
She said the agency's food bank in Jamestown, which serves Tuolumne, Calaveras, Amador, Mariposa and Alpine counties, had more people asking for food in the first quarter of 2003 than it did in all of 2001 or 2002.
"In 2001, we served 3,940 households," she said. "In 2002, it was up to 4,894 households. Then we had an enormous spike in the need for services. In the first quarter of 2003 alone, we served 7,678 households."
She said the spike is partially the result of a trickle-down from the economy's downturn the past few years, and partly because the state, facing a $38 billion deficit, has been cutting funding for programs to help low-income people.
Private sources and foundations all have been affected by the drop in the stock market, she said, and the government is struggling.
So are people.
"People are choosing between food and medicine," she said, "and some of them buy medicine and come to food banks to eat. Some of them come to food banks to eat and still can't afford medicine."
When the dot-com bust happened a few years ago, people who worked in the industry had some resources to fall back on, Kimball said.
"Now those resources are gone," she said. "Those people need food for the first time, and people who needed food before are even more needy now."
Other factors contributing to the increased need are rising rents, gasoline prices and utility costs, she said.
Kimball said it was fortunate the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors supported a two-year community development block grant for the food bank in 1995, and has agreed to continue it every two years since then.
She said community development block grants consist of federal money that is passed through states to counties, cities and other government entities that compete for funding.