Hungry Tahoe-Truckee residents seek assistance
The Truckee-Tahoe shoulder season typically induces hardships for residents relying on seasonal work. But the layoff slump compounded with a dramatic spike in food and fuel prices has forced more residents to seek out assistance.
The number of individuals relying on food stamps, reaching out to hunger relief organizations like Project MANA and soliciting assistance programs has notably increased over the past several weeks, according to county officials and assistance workers.
“We are experiencing more people than we usually see at the shoulder season,” said George LeBard, Project MANA’s executive director, of the weekly food distribution service. “It’s over double what we normally get.”
The emergency relief service hands out fresh produce and dairy products ” which are provided through personal donations and by local grocery stores ” to North Shore and Truckee residents. Clients may also request an emergency food bag that includes nutritionally balanced, nonperishable items, LeBard said.
While there’s been a spike in the number of recipients, LeBard said the distribution program has yet to experience a shortage of items, but they have had to ration some staple products.
“I am concerned, but I think we will be able to support this,” LeBard said. “But if the price of food keeps going up, then I’m really going to be worried.”
At Tuesday’s distribution in Truckee, only one loaf of bread was provided per family ” a change that spurred concern among some recipients accustomed to the typical take-what-you-need policy, said Molly Messerly, community outreach coordinator and distribution volunteer.
In addition, Messerly said she’s seen a significant increase in the amount of single male residents attending the weekly distributions.
“Every week, we’re seeing people come that have never come before,” Messerly said. “It’s part of the general fluctuation of the season, but it’s definitely worse than usual.”
Also reflecting a nationwide trend, the number of food stamp recipients swelled in both Placer and Nevada counties over the past few years.
In Truckee, the average number of households receiving food stamps jumped from 17 caseloads per month in 2003 to 43 caseloads per month in 2008, a 153 percent increase over five years, said Cynthia Bryan, program manager for Nevada County Social Services.
The increase may stem from the economic downturn, but Social Services Director Alison Lehman said she cites a population increase, a change in federal regulations in 2004, which made it easier for people to get food stamps and a greater outreach of county services for the mounting number of cases.
In Placer County, the number of individuals receiving food stamps grew by 290 from 2007 to 2008, a 14.1 percent increase, said Jim Gandley, the assistant director for Placer County Health and Human Services.
“That’s a pretty considerable increase,” Gandley said. “It’s consistent with what we see when the economy is struggling.”
Aside from turning to relief organizations and food stamps for help, area residents are looking for assistance with utility bills, medical costs and general living expenses.
The North Tahoe Public Utility District recently noticed a spike in the number of clients requesting information on low-income payment options, said Lisa Roenspie, the company’s accountant.
Similarly, the Truckee Donner Public Utility District has seen an increase in late payment notices sent out to district customers, and is heightening efforts to set up payment options with struggling clients, said district secretary Barbara Cahill.
In Placer County, the number of low-income individuals enrolling in Medi-Cal spiked 7.3 percent over the past year, and county Health and Human Services Assistant Director Jim Gandley said there has been a “larger influx of people at our doors looking for general assistance.”
The Nevada County Department of Social Services also reported an increase in residents seeking general assistance programs over the past year, said Director Alison Lehman.
“We are seeing an increase for individuals needing public assistance, which I believe is a reflection of the current economy,” Lehman said.
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