Defining America's New Face of Poverty

Families, older Americans turning to food pantries

ByABC News
April 26, 2010, 4:05 PM

Sept. 21, 2010 — -- Five years after the death of her husband, Rosalinde Block found herself at a food pantry on 86th Street in New York in desperate need of basic supplies to feed herself and her teenage son.

The 58-year-old Sarah Lawrence College graduate who made her life as a musician, illustrator, author and teacher of music and art, who spent a lifetime embodying a philanthropic spirit, has shifted to the other side as a recipient in need.

"It's kind of like J.K. Rowling," she gamely told, referring to the famous author, who supported herself and her young daughter on welfare while writing the Harry Potter novels that would make her rich and famous.

Block is one of the changing faces of poverty. Typically, food banks and food pantries are non-profit organizations across the country that provide meals to millions of families and individuals in need. The food is oft-times supplied by food banks to food pantries, which then distribute to clients. And, as a result of the economic slowdown that has left more than 14 million people unemployed or underemployed in the United States, these organizations are facing one of their greatest periods of demand.

Despite reports that the country is coming out of its longest recession since the Great Depression, many people are struggling to afford the necessities.

At Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry in Pittsburgh, demand for supplemental food has increased 32 percent over the first quarter of 2010. The pantry that serves 860 clients has seen a return of old clients, that were presumably once doing better, and working families that have fallen on hard times due to reduced hours and job loss. This, despite that the National Bureau of Economic Research, a respected group of economists, says the U.S. recession that started in December 2007 officially ended in June 2009.

"People are finding it harder to stretch their budgets because of the rising costs of utilities and increased [health insurance] co-pays," says Becky Abrams, the director at Squirrel Hill.

Fish Foods Banks of Pierce County, Washington, saw client traffic to the seven food banks that serve around 30,000 people a month increase by 34 percent last year and another16 percent since the start of 2010. The fastest growing age group at Fish and St. Leo Food Connection tend to be 55 years old or older.

"To me that says that older workers who have lost their jobs are having a harder time trying to find a job," says Beth Elliott, executive director at the nonprofit food organization. "It's taking them a year to find a job and, when they do, the job salary is not on par [with their previous position]."