People Left Behind Need Helping Hand

It’s the best of times and the worst of times on our little Island.

The Bay Area economy is booming, but the benefits are not reaching everyone. In fact, the dramatic recovery from the Great Recession has actually made economic inequality worse.

The Bay Area created 722,000 jobs in the last eight years, but just 106,000 additional housing units, according to the Committee to House the Bay Area. That’s putting a squeeze on the availability housing that’s causing costs to skyrocket by 70 percent. 

Due in large part to the high cost of housing, the Federal Housing and Urban Development department now considers a family of four earning $89,600 a year in Alameda County to be “low income.” That would be solidly middle class in most other parts of the country.

With housing consuming a higher and higher percentage of their income, it’s no wonder that working families are feeling the pinch.  And when there’s too much month left at the end of their money, many of these families turn to the Alameda Food Bank for help.

We’ve noticed a change in our clientele since we began feeding the Island in 1977. Where we once primarily served the unemployed, seniors and the disabled, we’re seeing more and more wage earners finding it hard to put enough food on the table. They are often retail and service workers whose hourly earnings are simply not enough to make ends meet.

This will be a critical year. Housing costs will continue to rise faster than hourly wages, even with the increase in Alameda’s minimum wage. The State of California and the City of Alameda are working diligently to address the housing crisis, but the federal government is proposing stricter limits on both food stamps and federally-supported housing. 

Any long-term solution is going to take time to have a significant impact on the problem. In the meantime, individuals and families are making heartbreaking trade-offs between housing, medical care and food.

The Alameda Food Bank will continue to do its part to help the 2,100 households we serve. We do this with very little government support, save a small grant and the land on which our trailer is located. During the last fiscal year, we received more than $445,000 in financial contributions from individuals and another $75,000 in grants. In addition, individuals, businesses and local groups donated more than 1.2 million pounds of food. With our ability to buy $7 worth of food for every $1 we receive, the monetary and food donations put a lot of meals on a lot of tables. 

We and other nonprofits serving Alameda are fortunate to have tremendous support from people in the community who recognize that it’s incumbent on those who have benefited from the surging economy to help those who have not. Until the rising economic tide truly lifts all ships, we will need the ongoing commitment of those who are able to help us keep the most vulnerable residents of our Island from falling through the rapidly shredding safety net. 

Cindy Houts is executive director of the Alameda Food Bank.