Inter-Faith Ministries volunteer Milton Ewert says people generally give three reasons why they need help with food:
They have had their government benefits cut, they've managed to hold on to their jobs only to see their hours cut or they've been laid off.
He has interviewed people for Inter-Faith's food pantry program for the past two years, and he is hearing these stories with greater frequency.
"It's increasing, especially in the last 1½ years," he said.
As the recession continues to grind along, Modesto-area agencies that help the hungry say their business is booming.
Inter-Faith is on pace to serve about 12,000 low-income people this year at its food pantry, an increase of 25 percent from 2008.
Four days a week, men, women and children start lining up at 6 a.m. outside the Modesto Gospel Mission to receive a bag of food and a box of used clothing when the mission opens its doors at 8 a.m.
The number of people each month has grown from 3,000 to 4,000 in about a year.
"As incomes get tighter, people start looking for more resources," said mission administrator Barbara Deatherage, adding she's noticed more families in the lines.
Turlock-based United Samaritan Foundation's four lunch trucks deliver meals Monday through Friday in parks and low-income neighborhoods in several communities, including Modesto. In 2006, the four trucks served 364,257 meals. Last year, that number was 422,886, a 16 percent increase.
"That trend is continuing this year," said Barbara Bawanan, the United Samaritans director. "The numbers are staying up. People are short on funds, and they have to keep a roof over their heads. One of the ways they can do that is to come to the truck for lunch."
Internal, external ordeal
Some of the people sitting in Inter-Faith Ministries' lobby last week waiting for bags of food talked about their struggles to find a job after being without work for months but said they were grateful for the help, even though it was hard to accept.
"I depend on myself," said Charles Haines, a 40-year-old father of two. "My kids depend on me. It's embarrassing. I should be the one who is providing."
Inter-Faith Executive Director Lynis Chaffey said she's noticed two recent trends: a quarter to a third of the people they help with food are newcomers, and the families they help are getting bigger. These larger families can include adult siblings or cousins who have moved in after losing a job. Inter-Faith also is giving away more infant formula and baby food.
The pantry is just a small part of the food Inter-Faith provides. Last year, it provided 300 tons of food to 55 churches, nonprofits and other groups that gave the food away.
Chaffey said Inter-Faith has enough to meet the increased demand because local food manufacturers and grocery chains have stepped up their help. But she has noticed that individual donors are writing smaller checks and donations to Inter-Faith's clothes closet are down as people hang onto their clothes longer.
She doesn't expect the demand for food to decline until jobs return. Stanislaus County's unemployment rate stood at 15.3 percent in September.
"It's a very difficult economic environment," she said. "It's difficult on many fronts."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2316.