Modesto -- Wanda Crawford donates to church food pantries a few times a year.
She's never had to use a food pantry, she said, but she gives because there are so many people out of work, and she has two disabled family members who rely on food pantries.
"There are a lot of people out there who need help now," Crawford said as she entered O'Brien's Market on Dale Road in Modesto on Monday morning.
Crawford, 60, is just the kind of person Inter-Faith Ministries of Greater Modesto hoped to reach as it launched a five-week food drive with a ceremony in front of the O'Brien's store that included a ribbon cutting and remarks from Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, Inter-Faith board President Tom Elrod and Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able.
Able spoke about how many of the families of her district's 31,000 students need help with food. More than 83 percent of the kindergarten through eighth-grade students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches. Fifty-five percent of high school students qualify, but Able suspects that many more are eligible but don't apply because they are embarrassed.
The income cutoff for a family of four is $29,055 for free lunches; it's $41,348 for reduced lunches.
The majority of people Inter-Faith feeds through its food pantry are children and families.
Even though the recession is officially over, Inter-Faith and other area food pantries and food banks are not seeing a drop-off in demand. Inter-Faith is on track to serve more than 46,000 people this year, up from 32,215 last year and 23,501 in 2010.
"The need is so great," said Inter-Faith Executive Director Barbara England.
The food drive ends Oct. 16, a day recognized each year by the United Nations as World Food Day. Inter-Faith will end the food drive with a health fair at Orville Wright Elementary School in Modesto's airport neighborhood.
It has food barrels and collection boxes at about 20 supermarkets, banks, real estate offices, schools and other locations throughout the Modesto area.
England said Inter-Faith has not seen a decline in food donations and has supplemented the canned and boxed food it gives away with fresh produce from several new initiatives. But, she said, monetary donations are down 15 to 20 percent.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.