OAKLAND -- The work of Bay Area food banks has never been more essential, with thousands of residents relying on organizations for assistance to keep their families fed.
At a time of so much uncertainty, there is one thing Liz Gomez knows for sure: the 2022 holiday season will be her most challenging ever.
"Back when I started, it was known that Thanksgiving month was the busiest time for food banks," she said. "Now every month is busy for food banks."
For the last 25 years, Gomez has worked at the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland, first as a receptionist and now as the chief impact officer overseeing more than a hundred employees.
Raised by a single mother, she knows what it's like to be food insecure.
"I wish my mom would have known about these," Gomez said.
But these days, Gomez and her team are stretched to the limit. Not only are their food cost skyrocketing thanks to inflation, the rise in prices is also creating more need.
"Our food helpline is receiving about 30% of new calls of people that have never contacted us before," she said.
Before the pandemic, her food bank distributed about 2.5 million pounds of food each month. Now it's 4.5 million.
There are no turkeys this year. Instead, the pantries they deal with are offered chickens. But even those are in short supply.
Jennifer Melchor, the manager of the Universal Church Pantry in downtown Oakland, scored a total of 30 chickens, even though her pantry services 220 people. She used to come here once a month. Now it's once a week.
A few days before Thanksgiving, she picked up about 2,500 pounds of food. Most of it will be gone within days.
"Produce is the one that goes by quickly," she said. "If you noticed our cart that's the thing that we're taking the most because that's what people want."
Gomez said that even with all the difficulties, she believed her food bank was ready for the challenge.
"We've added 50 positions," she said. "By the time we're fully staffed, we'll be at 150 staff. That's the largest it's ever been."
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