The New Poor Are Straining Resources At Food Banks Around The Country

I had lunch the other day with a friend who'd gone from a three-paycheck household to one in four months - and her company's cutting back. Even though

I had lunch the other day with a friend who'd gone from a three-paycheck household to one in four months - and her company's cutting back. Even though she has a well-paying job, dozens of jobs in her division have already been cut back to part-time, and she's worried she's next. I talked to her about going to a food bank, and she was surprised to hear she could qualify without being on welfare:

MORRISTOWN, N.J. — Once a crutch for the most needy, food pantries have responded to the deepening recession by opening their doors to what Rosemary Gilmartin, who runs the Interfaith Food Pantry here, described as “the next layer of people” — a rapidly expanding roster of child-care workers, nurse’s aides, real estate agents and secretaries facing a financial crisis for the first time.

Demand at food banks across the country increased by 30 percent in 2008 from the previous year, according to a survey by Feeding America, which distributes more than two billion pounds of food every year. And instead of their usual drop in customers after the holidays, many pantries in upscale suburbs this year are seeing the opposite.

Here in Morris County, one of the wealthiest counties in the country, the Interfaith pantry opened for an extra night last week to accommodate the growing crowds. Among the first-time visitors were Cindy Dreeszen and her husband, who both have steady jobs — his at a movie theater and hers at a government office — with a combined annual income of about $55,000.

But with a 17-month-old son, another baby on the way, and, as Ms. Dreeszen put it, “the cost of everything going up and up,” the couple showed up in search of free groceries.

“I didn’t think we’d even be allowed to come here,” said Ms. Dreeszen, 41, glancing around at the shelves of fruit, whole-wheat pasta and baby food. “This is totally something that I never expected to happen, to have to resort to this.”

Now, I know some of you are going to say they make enough money to live and they're just trying to scrounge off the system. But that's unlikely: How many working people want to stand in line at a food bank? People are usually ashamed of needing help.

Things are so bad right now for so many of us. Try to have some compassion - it could be you.

About Susie Madrak

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