"The challenge has been that pantries are absolutely starved," said Tom Freeman, spokesman for "Take A Bite Out of Hunger," a food drive organized by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in response to the crisis.
Food lines in the county are swelling with unemployed workers due to a jobless rate at 10 percent of the work force and climbing.
"That's 94,200 people, the most in the history of our county," Freeman said. "More people are turning to these organizations to get their food."
One in four San Bernardino County residents, or 538,000 hungry people, need food assistance at least once a month, said Herman Pena, who manages the San Bernardino County Food Bank. His bank serves 23 soup kitchens and 132 social service agencies, with another 75 on a waiting list that doesn't figure to get shorter any time soon.
Statewide, food banks are seeing 20 to 40 percent increases in demand, said Eric Manke, policy and communications manager for the California Association of Food Banks.
"It's a combination of things," he said. "Part of it is an increase in food prices. If I were a betting man, I would bet that the economic downturn has played a big role in this."
In addition to the recession and unemployment, Freeman said, "we have had a tremendous number of foreclosures. Those factors all combine to make it tough on families right now."
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