Recession drives up number of food bank users

Brian Duggan/Nevada Appeal

Brian Duggan/Nevada Appeal

The Dayton Community Center's gym transformed into a bustling hub Thursday afternoon as hundreds of people lined up to fill boxes with canned goods, turkey, milk and other staples.

The community center's monthly food distribution uses donations from the Food Bank of Northern Nevada as well as local schools and grocery stores.

Director Freida Carbery has run the operation since October, guiding hundreds of people through a maze of mac and cheese and baked goods, filling boxes to the brim.

Her philosophy is simple: "Freely we share," she said.

Carbery said 661 people came to the food bank Thursday. Of those, 187 were first-timers. In November, there were 280 new users out of a total of 686. A year ago, the number of people using the food bank was between 250 and 350, organizers said.

Many of the people at the food bank have been out of work, or underemployed, for months. It's another example of the effects a sour economy has had on the region - especially in Lyon County where unemployment hovers around 16 percent.

In addition to the monthly distribution, the center gives away weekly packages of food to families in need.

Volunteer Arlene Couts, 66, handles signing in new users at the food bank.

"They want to get through this as quickly as possible because they're uncomfortable to ask," she said. "And we keep telling them, if they're really in need, come back here during the week because there are emergency boxes available."

Sue Vanus, 48, started using the food bank this year when her husband, a road construction worker, started receiving less work. Now she volunteers there.

"Everybody is having a hard time," Vanus said. "Sometimes people's Social Security is so minimal that they have to come through to get food."

Quest Lakes, who works for Healthy Communities Coalition, said that in previous years most of those who used the food bank were elderly. Today, she's seeing more young families and people who have lost their savings to pay for medical bills.

Jessica Paz-Cedillos, a food bank volunteer and case manager for Community Chest in Storey County, said the problem for many people is the tight job market. People who have worked all their lives find themselves in need of help to simply put dinner on the table.

"There's pride there too because these are people who have worked," Paz-Cedillos said. "There's a stigma, you don't want to go and stand in line - but you need it sometimes because otherwise how do you eat? How do you get by?"

The food bank provides services that help people fill out applications for government aid.

Hector and Martha Soto decided they would volunteer at the food bank after using its services this fall when Hector's construction work slowed for the winter months.

The Sotos said they didn't feel comfortable coming to the food bank at first, but that changed after they offered to help out.

"And now they feel more comfortable, it's not as scary," Paz-Cedillos said, translating for the Sotos, who have four children.


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