Pandemic leads many Bay Area residents to food banks for 1st time

Hunger has skyrocketed in the Bay Area during the pandemic. Local food banks have estimated that 1.5 million are having trouble feeding themselves and their families. 

Turning to food banks for help with a basic necessity is a completely new experience for many people.

Mabel Gonzales used to grocery shop. She was part of a two-income family that never needed help feeding its four children."It was abundance," Gonzalez said. "But now it’s like, here we go. We have to limit."

Now, a drive-through food bank near the Oakland Coliseum is part of her routine. The Alameda County Community Food Bank loads dietary staples into cars.

"Before COVID, never in my life," she said about the financial hardship.

When Bay Area’s pandemic lockdown began on March 17, Gonzales was sent home from her office job at San Jose City College.

"I didn’t have a job after that," she said.

Her husband was a cook, but the restaurant closed. His second job as a full-time butcher has been cut back to part-time.

"That’s the first thing on our worries list: food," she said. "Because we’re a big family

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Five Bay Area food banks serve twice as many people as they did before the virus spread. Shame may keep more away who need help/

"I try to make it as comfortable as possible, because that's the biggest stigma," Raquel Curiel-Morales from the Redwood Empire Food Bank. "They don't want to come out because they don't want people to know they need the help

It turns out that many who volunteer or work at food banks were once recipients. 

"My building shut down. My daughter got laid off as soon as the pandemic hit, so the best thing I could do is come out to the food bank as a volunteer and at least provide food for my family," said one woman.

Four in 10 calls to food hotlines are from first timers. Many pantries don’t require registration, making it a less intrusive experience for some.

"It’s humbling enough to have to come and ask for food," said Ben Buggs of Faith Food Fridays Vallejo.

"If I don't go to work I don't get paid, so this definitely helps, definitely, help us and feed us," said Willie Martinez of Vallejo. " I can't be thankful enough to this place."

There are more stories, interviews and information about the spike in hunger on