COMMENTARY: Food banks need money as well as meals

Charities often ask for donations around the holidays because that’s when people are most likely to be feeling generous. But hunger runs rampant all year, and it actually peaks for children in the summer when school is out.

Food banks in particular tend to time their drives around Thanksgiving, because so many people are out stocking up for the big dinner that it doesn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice for shoppers to throw goods into the food bin at the door of their local supermarket.

This is a good deed, and no one should be dissuaded from attempting to make a local family’s holiday dinner a little fuller or sweeter.

But in the 13 years I’ve been urging generosity at turkey time, the scope of the problem — and of the solutions — has expanded in many directions.

The percentage of the U.S. population experiencing low or very low food security has gone up over the past decade due to the failure to recover from the Great Recession, the decrease in the number of high-paying middle-skill jobs and the rise of low-paying service-sector occupations.

Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, works year-round to position emergency food supplies throughout the country. So when earthquakes, hurricanes or wildfires hit, member food banks are ready to deploy food, water, equipment and supplies with a network of 2,400 trucks. Then the organization stays in communities to help them with long-term recovery efforts.

Right now, the organization is coordinating in California with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, as well as with FOOD Share Inc. and the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, among many others.

Sue Sigler, executive director of the California Association of Food Banks in Oakland, told me they’re supplying food to shelters and evacuation centers and coordinating with local governments and first responders to ensure the right type and quantity of food gets to those who need it.

“Folks who have lost homes and employment will take many years to become self-sufficient again,” Sigler said, “so there is both an immediate and long-term need for food assistance.”

The reality is that the enormity of the need requires sophisticated logistics to transport fresh milk, meats, fruits, vegetables and other foods and staples long distances from corporate donors and bulk sellers in far-flung warehouses to the people who need them.

This is why, generous readers, if you really want to make an impact on the lives of people who dearly need nourishment, please open your wallet.

“With respect to how people can help, cash donations are the most preferable,” Sigler said. “Food banks obtain food at far below retail cost and have many other costs as well, such as extra staffing, transportation costs, and much more.”

Please find a way to donate the cost of a box of cereal or a value pack of mac n’ cheese to your local food pantry. Or find a little extra in the month’s budget to donate to the tens of thousands of people who won’t have a home for the holidays because of the California fires or other disasters.

Giving your extra dollars via website or text or app may not feel as good as plunking packaged food into a bin at the grocery store, but it will go further and help more people than you can imagine.

Contact Esther Cepeda at estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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