Food Bank: Economy improves, donations drop, need continues

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) The line behind the Food Bank truck parked in northeast Reno on a recent morning said much about the state of hunger in our area.

Though this event took place just before Christmas, there was nothing unusual about the turnout. It was typical of the 40 or so such events hosted by the Food Bank of Northern Nevada each month and, in spite of what you might hear and read about the local economy, it hasn't been getting any better for many.

"For a lot of people they are still making near minimum wage, rents are going up like crazy here and that's a recipe for disaster for families just trying to get by," says Food Bank President Al Brislain."This food really helps."

Among the assumptions made about who the Food Bank helps, there's the one that casts these people as homeless. Not true, says Brislain..

"Less than 10 percent of the clients we serve throughout the area are homeless. Most of the people you see in line are senior citizens, the working poor, single moms. They are people that are just trying to get by."

Teresa Schmuelgen was there to pick up food for a neighboring family, a couple with five children. The mother has cancer. It took two incomes and a two-year wait to get a permanent roof over their head. Food remains a challenge.

"Food stamps don't go far enough because food is so high," she says. "So what it does it really, really helps out because they don't have to worry so much."

The variety of food available at these Mobile Harvest gatherings is--well--surprising, unpredictable and, on this day, almost exotic, including dragon fruit and fresh shrimp.

"It's crazy," says Brislain. "We get what's donated through the food industry and we get some great stuff sometimes."

But, he adds, that's a plus.

"There's an epidemic of diabetes and obesity and when we can help people have healthier diets that helps everybody."

He never knows when or where those opportunities will come up. Some of the produce has an unexpected origin.

"We're getting what's called trade mitigation food. It's basically foods that that are supporting the prices because the market fell off because of the trade wars."

Every opportunity helps, but the need isn't dropping, even though donations are.

"There's a real problem getting the word out letting people know that there's still a lot of families left behind, that haven't recovered from the recession, that are just getting by. And I've got to say that's reflected in our donations. They're down a little bit and we're hoping people realize how important it is to help these families."