Food Banks Face Surging Demand

As millions of people lose their jobs, food banks are scrambling to meet the need. A student reading is followed by some suggestions for how students might help.

by Alan Shapiro

To the Teacher:
The student reading below focuses on the work of food banks and the surge of need they are facing as millions of people lose their jobs. Following the reading are suggestions for how students might help.

Student Reading

David and his wife Lisa took over his parents' car and truck repair business in 2006. "We had been doing all right for months," said Lisa. "Then all of a sudden, no one was coming through the door." By August 2007, $30,000 in debt, the couple shut their business down. David found a job as a mechanic while Lisa took care of their four children.
With the economy spiraling down, David was laid off. It took him months to find a new job fixing copiers. The family received food stamps, but they didn't provide enough food for a family of six. So they turned to the Open Door/Cape Ann Food Pantry, an agency of the Greater Boston Food Bank.
The pantry is part of the Feeding America network, which describes itself as the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization. According to its website, Feeding America "provides food assistance to more than 25 million low-income people facing hunger in the United States, including more than 9 million children and nearly 3 million seniors." The network has more than 200 food banks in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
In March 2009, Feeding America today warned that the nation's food banks "could soon be overwhelmed by demand." Vicki Escarra, President and CEO of Feeding America said, "Our food banks tell us they simply cannot provide enough food to all of the people who need help. A terrible situation has just become much worse." (, 3/6/09)
The official unemployment rate of 8.1% does not accurately describe the current level of joblessness in the U.S. It does not include those who have given up looking for a job, nor does it include people who are working part-time who want more work. Nor does it reflect jobless rates in all the states—like Michigan's 10.6%. In the past four months alone, 2.6 million Americans have become jobless. Almost 32 million Americans now receive food stamps.
A Reuters story headlined "Food Banks Swamped in 'Wealthy' California County" reported that in Orange County, home of Disneyland and beach mansions, the local food bank is "struggling to feed the hungry...and reporting that demand had increased 40 to 60 percent since June of 2008. "Our donations have not in any way, shape or form kept pace with the skyrocketing need in Orange Country," said Orange County Food Bank Director Mark Lowry. "I've never seen such a dramatic increase in need." (, 3/9/09)
"Duluth Store Donates to Food Bank" was the headline of an Associated Press story about how a Duluth, Minnesota, store that sold a winning lotto ticket is donating its share of $10,000 to the Second Harvest Food Bank." (, 3/7/09)
In Arizona, individuals, corporations and foundations, all cutting back because of the economy, have been donating less to food banks. The United Food Bank in Mesa "has been running about 2 million pounds short of supplying all the food requested this fiscal year."
A local newspaper reported that Paulette Pineda, "lost her job at a temporary-service agency four months ago and had to move in with her daughter, a single mother of three, because it took 10 weeks to begin receiving unemployment aid. Then her daughter was laid off." Pineda, 58, "went to the United Food Bank in Mesa to buy a food box that includes a whole chicken, bread, fresh and canned vegetables and a bunny cake for $16. 'With a big family to feed, it's about enough for one meal,' she said. 'Maybe I can make a big stew.'' (, 3/9/09)
According to the Food Bank for New York City, nearly half of all city residents are "experiencing difficulty affording needed food...Findings also show that 3.5 million city residents are concerned about needing food assistance...during the next year, including 2.1 million...who have never accessed food assistance in the past." (, 12/16/08)
Investigative reporter Nick Turse reported: "Families who just months ago didn't even know what a food bank was and would never have considered visiting a food pantry now have far more intimate knowledge of both. Embarrassed to approach institutions that they previously identified with the poor...many, say food bank officials, are also waiting far too long to seek aid. Other formerly middle class Americans who have never dealt with, or even thought about, food insecurity before simply don't know who to call or where to turn." (, 3/8/09)
For discussion
1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they find answers?
2. Where is the nearest food bank in the students' town or state? If they don't know, help them find out through searching the web for food pantries in your area. Some food banks can be found by logging on to
3. What interest do students have in helping that food banks meet growing calls for help? There are many possibilities:
  • announcements on the school PA system about needs and soliciting donations
  • a school-wide assembly program featuring a talk from a food bank representative
  • direct efforts like a car wash, a bake sale, etc.
"Students can and should be given opportunities to take part in the significant events in their world. As teachers, we can create very powerful opportunities for our students, both in the classroom and extending into the larger world...We can help them understand processes of group decision making and the political process. And, we can structure ways for them to participate in the empowering experience of acting to make a real different in the world." 
—Making History, Educators for Social Responsibility
See "Teaching Social Responsibility" in the high school section for other suggestions.
This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: