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Need still exists for food donations after holiday season ends

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 31 2013 10:35 a.m. MST

Carolers singing to the men and women eating breakfast.

Photo courtesy of Anne Simmons

On a snowy December morning just days before Christmas, Jeff Raddatz greeted volunteers to a South Jordan, Utah, church parking lot with a hug. He handed them an orange five-gallon jug and a large silver crock pot to load into the back of two long white trailers filled with the propane tanks and sets of long tables and chairs.

For the seventh consecutive year, Raddatz, a South Jordan resident, coordinated a breakfast for the homeless men and women in Salt Lake City.

With Christmas now come and gone, many people are feeling the sense of goodwill that comes from giving to those in need, but according to Jennifer Errico, communications director for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the pangs of hunger are felt the sharpest during the months just after the holidays.

"In January and February, the donations just trickle in," Errico said. "Those months are our biggest need."

According to Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief charity, 49 million Americans, including nearly 16 million children, are food insecure — living at the risk of hunger. The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of access, at times. to enough food for an active and healthy lifestyle.

It's a need that comes not once a year, but rather, every day, and Raddatz has seen this first hand.

Hours after meeting in a snowy parking lot, homeless men and women, some of them dressed in stained oversized coats and ragged scarves, braved the snow and the cold to walk to Salt Lake City's Pioneer Park for a hot meal, served by Raddatz and his volunteers.

For Raddatz, giving isn't just for the 300 people he fed days before Christmas. In fact, he schedules his life around it. For him, it's a weekly effort to give food to those in need, which is exactly what organizations like the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank are hoping for.

Help spread thin

The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, one of the largest in the country, sees a surge in donations every holiday season, said Errico.

The food bank, which distributes more than one million pounds of food each week, receives 30 percent of monetary donations in the final three months of the year.

"We have a huge volume of volunteers that come in. We had over 150 the other morning, and we have seen huge food drive participation from schools, churches and offices," Errico said.

And this isn't an uncommon pattern for food banks all over the nation, she said.

Charity Navigator's Holiday Giving Guide reported a survey from Ask Your Target Market on the number of people who give to charitable organizations over the holidays. According to the survey, 57 percent give to charity, 63 percent of which give items like nonperishable foods and home goods.

But it's the months after the holidays that cut the deepest.

Errico said the need would be easily filled if more people would give a few hours of their time and a few resources.

"We are really grateful for the end of the year push," Errico said. "It keeps us going all year, but there is a big push for us to keep awareness up all year round."

The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank serves one million people a year, 400,000 of whom are children.

In spite of the Christmas giving, the need still exists during the summer months when children and teens are out of school. To displace this need, the food bank kicks off a month-long campaign in July involving local media and grocery stores.

Hunger in America

Hunger is a national issue that's growing.

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