Food bank veteran: Politics takes away donations

Oregon, food bank
People browse goods at the Oregon Food Bank in Portland, Ore., on Sunday, September 2, 2012
CBS News

(CBS News) PORTLAND, Ore. - Food banks are being flooded with requests for help, and as they struggle to meet the growing need, their task is made harder by the election.

As the Democrats prepare to head into their national convention this week, the view of balloons and dancing delegates seems a world away from those who have been forced to stand in line for food. Across the country the plight of the hungry is getting worse, not better.

Survival looks like for Nicole Johnnie and her 8-year-old daughter Cheyenne getting groceries in a Portland food bank. Without it, her family wouldn't eat.

"Do I get embarrassed to come? I do. But is it necessary? Yeah," Johnnie said.

She, like all the others at the Snow-Cap Community Charities, have to line up and take a number. They have to get here early. The food these days runs out fast.

"I wish I could say it tugs at my heart now, but it makes me mad, at my stage," said Judy Alley, Snow Cap executive director.

Alley is in charge here, and she's seen it all before. Every election cycle, she said, donations drop and her shelves get emptier and emptier.

"I've been doing this 22 years, and in presidential years, people donate to politics, to campaigns, and that takes away what little money they'd be giving to charities," Alley said.

For the first time last year, the Oregon Food Bank gave out more than a million emergency food boxes. A third of those who needed them most were parents struggling with small kids. If donations don't pick up, next year will likely be even worse.

"They're going to open their cupboard and there's not going to be anything there, and that mother and that father, they're going to have to say, 'Kids you can't eat today. There's no food today.' And that's unconscionable," said Janeen Wadsworth, CEO of Oregon Food Bank.

The aging are at risk too. Marsha Stenberg wants to work, but, she said, "at 65, people aren't beating down your door to give you a job."

So the clock finally ran out on both her savings and her pride. Sunday was her first trip to a food bank.

"I don't know what else to do, just like the rest of them. I'm sure they don't know what else to do. Getting a handout, I've never done that. I've never done that," said Stenberg.

There are countless worthy causes, and most agree presidential campaigns are one of them. But sometimes the most basic human need gets lost in the shuffle.

"People shouldn't have to line up for food. We have enough in this country. We need to learn to share," Alley said.

People like Marsha Stenberg are counting on it.