From Middle-Class to Food Pantry: Single Dad Sells Possessions to Feed His Family

PHOTO: Because of local food pantries, Don Orange, a 35-year-old single dad from Bonita Springs, Fla., said his two kids, Abigail, 6, and Aidon, 4, have never gone hungry.
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On grocery day, Don Orange gets only the food he needs to feed his two kids at the only price he can afford -- which is nothing.

Since June, Orange, who is unemployed, has been a regular at the Bonita Springs Assistance Office food pantry in Bonita Springs, Fla. He joins the swelling number of middle-class Americans who now need the most basic help to make sure they can feed their families.

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Because of local food pantries, Orange, a 35-year-old single dad, said his two kids, Abigail, 6, and Aidon, 4, have never gone hungry. But it wasn't always that way.

A few months after receiving his last unemployment check in April, Orange said his bank account was "zero" and the cupboard was almost bare.

"Enough left to feed the kids a couple of breakfasts, couple of lunches," he said.

Five years ago, Orange managed a chain of Shoe Carnival stores and lived on a street lined with big houses in Florida, where many of his neighbors owned boats. At the time, he was pulling in a salary in excess of $50,000 and had no doubt whatsoever that this is where he belonged. Until he was laid off.

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Shortly after, Orange was hired as a general manager at a wedding apparel business at Sacino's in Fort Myers. But 11 months later, the company closed most of its local stores and he was again out of a job. That was more than a year ago.

"It's pretty rough," he said. "We wonder from day to day where we're going to get money from. ... I feel lower class."

Al Brislain, who runs the Harry Chapin Food Bank in Fort Myers, which supplies nearly 200 food pantries in southwest Florida with basic staples -- and more recently, meat and fresh produce -- said the food bank has seen a 60 percent increase in partners signing up to get food since the recession started.

The food bank has a warehouse cooled to a chilly 38 degrees F, outfitted to store all kinds of perishable food. It has relationships with local supermarkets, which donate food they otherwise couldn't sell, such as meats close to expiration dates.

"If people don't buy it within 24 to 48 hours, they freeze it and give it to us," Brislain said. "It's unbelievable the fresh produce we get, meat, perishables. ... That's what the American consumer wants, so that's what we get donated from the food industry."

A fleet of trucks makes daily rounds to pick up the food. Other mobile pantries travel out into the rural areas of the five counties the food bank serves. One recent trip involved a 60-mile drive to a park where nearly 900 people were waiting in 95-degree heat. An assembly line of people formed to receive the 14,000 pounds of food that were given away over the next three hours, many of whom were the long-term poor.

But Brislain said he is seeing a new group of people who need the food bank's services.

"Former construction workers, former real estate people ... and people who supported those industries" he said. "We are seeing people who were donors that are having to come. We are seeing people who were volunteers at the food pantries that are having to ask for help. We are seeing people who just are -- one guy had an $80,000 job, he lost it, he got a $30,000 job, he lost that. Now he is out of work. But you just see people underwater. Just underwater."

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