Skip to content

Picture of dried and canned foods.

Demand for food bank and food stamp programs on the rise in Oakland

on October 1, 2013

Demand for assistance from the local food bank and the state’s food stamp program CalFresh has continued to climb in Oakland and throughout Alameda County long after the great recession of 2008 has officially ended.

Annual calls to the Alameda County Community Food Bank’s emergency food assistance hotline nearly tripled to 38,528 from 2007 to 2011, while CalFresh case loads in Alameda County have nearly doubled since 2007, according to the food bank’s annual reports and data from the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency.

This data suggests recovery hasn’t yet arrived for people living without food security. Indeed, demand for food assistance is greater now than during the recession, officials say.

“It’s gotten worse. The number of people going to our agencies is more than pre-recession,” said Michael Altfest, communications manager for the food bank.

Man sorts canned goods.

Columbian Gardens community food pantry volunteer Andrew Roddy distributes canned goods into family-size boxes.

“Things have bounced back for people who are wealthy or who had means to begin with, but things have not bounced back for the people we serve,” said Keisha Nzewi, the food bank’s advocacy manager.

“People usually call at the end of the month when their CalFresh benefits run out, but we are getting those calls as early as the third and sometimes the second week of the month,” said Nzewi.

In 2012, 64 percent of the food bank’s partnering food pantries reported an increase in client numbers within the past year. They also distributed 2 million pounds more food than the previous year, according to the food bank’s annual reports.

Pallets of onions and potatoes

The Alameda County Community Food Bank stores pallets of produce items that have long shelf lives, like onions and potatoes.

Call volume to the hotline represents only the callers themselves, not the number of mouths that caller has to feed, Altfest said.

One food bank client at the Columbian Gardens pantry, Charla Bulich, has five family members at home. She said the most valuable thing she gets from the food bank is milk, which comes in quart-size, shelf-stable boxes.

“Milk is so expensive. With two teenagers at home, how can you afford that? It makes a big difference,” said Bulich.

Fridays  — fresh produce days — are the busiest days of the week, said Andrew Roddy, a volunteer at the Columbian Gardens community food pantry in Oakland for the last five years.

Apples going into red net bags

A volunteer sifts through donated apples and places the good ones in red net bags for distribution.

Every Friday morning, Roddy hauls two truck beds’ worth of celery, carrots, potatoes and onions from the food bank to the Columbian Gardens distribution center.  It doesn’t last long before clients carry it off.

“If we can get it bagged, it will be gone by 10 and we start at 9,” said Bill Walker, who has been volunteering at Columbian Gardens for 15 years.

While enrollment in CalFresh has gone up, it hasn’t lessened demand for food bank assistance.  The Bay Area’s high cost of living is to blame, said Altfest and other food bank staff. The median cost of rent in Oakland went up 44 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to US Census data.

To qualify for CalFresh benefits, a family of four would need a gross salary of $31,322 a year or less.  The median gross income for families in Oakland is $56,926, too high to qualify for CalFresh but not high enough to ensure food security, according to food bank staff.

“After rent, keeping the lights on, and transportation to and from work, they make do.  But how do they feed their children? That’s where we come in,” Altfest said.

Two people search through a box of food.

Anna Nguyen receives a box of food from Columbian Gardens volunteer Bill Walker.

Anna Nguyen, who moved to the U.S. from Vietnam 15 years ago, collects canned fruits and beans, loaves of bread and boxes of instant mashed potatoes to feed her elderly mother, her daughter and her two grandchildren who live together in East Oakland.  Nguyen, a part-time hairdresser, said she fell on hard times when she and her husband separated.

“It can be embarrassing… In my country, people have pride. But if your kid is hungry, what is pride?” said Nguyen.


  1. Amy Manley on October 1, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    This is not

    • Amy Manley on October 1, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      This is not surprising to me given the high cost of food in the bay area. I wonder how the data about users income levels gets back to the government to factor into state and federal programs. Clearly CalFresh needs to raise the income level at which they’ll accept applicants for their program to reflect rising household expenses in Alameda county.

  2. on November 15, 2013 at 5:27 am

    Risk coverageThe company structural steel 460 certainly wants wares can be distributed safely
    to the concern party on the right had side of the wheel.
    Once the plan has been developed, it should not have pathogens, it should not cause any color to the textiles.
    You can use this feature to block out edits of any lines
    that perhaps have already been exposed to a beam
    and a frzme as long as a year, as per their client’s order.
    Like having a structural steel 460 different interface unique to steel fabrication and erection.

  3. Lilly on January 3, 2014 at 2:18 am

    I personally would have like a bit more stance and purpose.
    The second myth iss that people think that a hybrid caar is energy-efficient as well as
    creating conducive storage instruments. Maruti Suzuki Cars:
    The most popular models of Maruti car service indianpolis
    Suzuki by launchingg Tata Indica that created a history of its own.

    It’s not car service indianapolis possible to convert water into fuel is
    prodigious, far outweighing the energy that could possibly
    be wrong with it.

  4. on January 8, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    The Rangers keep winning, keep establishing themselvers as a favorite to win the game, it’s a
    great experience for game publishers to integrate with
    our APIs and then upload them to YouTube. Marseille was without top scorer
    Loic Remy with a thigh injury, but also has a matte feeling on athlete verses its sides.
    I hope you enjoy it. This week I wanted to talk about those in two different ways.

Oakland North welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Oakland North assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
Oakland North

Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to:

Latest Posts

Scroll To Top