Food Banks Depleted in Relief Effort Rush to Restock Shelves for Holidays

Article excerpt

Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein

Many food banks around the country are hustling this holiday season to replenish coffers that were emptied after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Things have been anything but normal at the Hillside Community Food Bank of New Jersey, located near Newark International Airport.

After the September 11 attacks, the food bank's 280,000-square-foot warehouse became a staging area for relief efforts and distributed everything from water to work boots, said spokeswoman Meara Nigro.

The pace was frantic, she said. "In one week, volunteers made 10,000 sandwiches."

"Now we're in this tremendous lull," said Mrs. Nigro. Food donations have declined and there's "donor fatigue" - a major fund-raising project is down about 20 percent from the previous year, and several companies that usually helped to raise donations are refusing to give assistance because of layoffs.

Even a recent drive to collect Thanksgiving turkeys for local soup kitchens and shelters came up short by 1,100 birds. "We're scrambling to fill orders with chickens," Mrs. Nigro said this week.

All this is happening just as demand for food is growing, partly because of rising layoffs and the cutbacks in the airline industry.

"We'll just have to be more creative and find some other innovative ways to get supporters to recognize that we need help," said Mrs. Nigro.

A similar story has unfolded in Orlando, Fla., where the September 11 attacks chilled business in the world's foremost tourist destination.

Central Florida has about 220,000 jobs related to tourism, and "our best-guess estimates" are that between 66,000 and 88,000 people have lost their jobs or had their work hours reduced, said Margaret Linnane of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

This has led to an enormous spike in food requests - demand for food is up 91 percent since September 11, compared with the prior year, she said. At the same time, food supplies have dwindled. There are 35 percent fewer donations of excess meals from hotels and conventions, and the amount of donated goods from grocery stores has fallen by 65 percent, said Ms. Linnane.

"For the first time in our history, we launched a communitywide food drive," she said. …