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Food Banks Chief: Economy Squeezing Arizonans Like a Boa Constrictor

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September 17, 2009

PHOENIX - Demand on Arizona's food banks has risen dramatically as poverty rates climb and family incomes fall. Banks provided 42 percent more food the first half of this year compared to last. Census reports show more than one million Arizonans are now living in poverty, while family incomes in the state have dropped by nearly twice the national average.

Ginny Hildebrand, president of the Association of Arizona Food Banks, compares the state's economy to a boa constrictor.

"We've gone from 13.2 percent in poverty to 16.1 percent. It seems like it's squeezing families a little tighter every month as they have to stay on these benefits, and there's no option of a job right in front of them."

Because of record donations, Hildebrand says Arizona's food banks so far have kept up with demand, distributing an average of nearly 12 million pounds of food every month. It also helps, she says, that three-quarters of Arizonans eligible for food stamps have signed up. Thousands of those seeking service from food banks have never before sought help, she adds.

"We see people who have recently lost their jobs, or experienced dramatic cutbacks in their hours; folks who are not able to find work."

Individual donors, foundations and businesses have increased donations as the recession has deepened, with some organizations making donations as large as $30,000. Hildebrand attributes that to the reputation food banks have for being trustworthy, efficient and cost-effective.

"They use in-kind contributions of transportation; they have numerous volunteers. All of those kinds of things mean less cost on the operational side and more food in the food boxes."

Along with increased food donations, Arizona food banks report they are also purchasing food at record levels to keep supply boxes stocked.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ