Valley food banks brace for longer lines due to drought

MERCED, Calif.

The Merced County Food Bank feeds about 40,000 people a month and since one third of the Valley's jobs are related to farming, staff members are now concerned the drought could leave many more families in need. More than 60 families picked up bags filled with food from the Planada Community center Monday morning.

"We have chicken, spaghetti sauce, cranberry, corn, mixed fruit, a little bit of the whole food pyramid," food distribution volunteer Alejandro Garcia said.

The Merced County Food Bank donates all of the items for the monthly distribution. The giveaway helps a variety of residents, including those who work the fields in the rural area.

"This community is one that's seasonal workers so a lot of times work is good for certain months and then there's a break," Garcia said.

Now with the state facing its driest year on record, experts say that break could last much longer.

"Our outreach workers are out there in the field talking to farm workers and also talking to employers, and they have indicated that some of them will not be coming back to work next month simply because the growers are not going to plant as other years before," Pedro Vargas with the Employment Development Department said.

The lack of planting is also expected to hurt other farm-related jobs, including processing plant workers, truck drivers, and those who sell tractors and other equipment. That's why local food banks are now anticipating an even higher demand, similar to that seen in the drought of 2009.

"Unfortunately the drought is something we have to deal with, along with donations being lighter, so we are expecting more people in our lines," Bernadette Mello said.

Executive Director Bernadette Mello said the nonprofit will do its best to deliver enough food to the areas that need it most, but it won't be possible without support.

"People's livelihoods depend on the generosity of others," Mello said.

The food bank says donating money is the most helpful because the non-profit can buy items at a discounted rate. Meanwhile, the employment development department is also bracing for the drought's impact by hiring an additional 280 people to staff offices across the state.

They will help with new unemployment claims and a backlog of work caused by computer glitches last year.

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