March 9, 2009 / 9:36 PM / 10 years ago

Food banks swamped in "wealthy" California county

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Its image is mostly that of rich California housewives, multimillion-dollar beach mansions and Disneyland, but Orange County has been hit so hard by recession that some of its food banks say they are swamped and struggling to feed the hungry.

In fact food banks in Orange County, which has been portrayed as an oceanfront playground for the wealthy on such TV shows as “The O.C.” and “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” were reporting demand had increased 40 to 60 percent since June of 2008.

“Our donations have not in any way, shape or form kept pace with the skyrocketing need in Orange County,” Orange County Food Bank Director Mark Lowry said. “I’ve been here for over 20 years and while we’ve seen challenging times, I’ve never seen such a dramatic increase in need.”

Lowry said the demand has become so “overwhelming” that he has been forced to stop donating to any new organizations.

“A week and a half ago we just said ‘enough.’ We simply don’t have enough resources at the moment to meet the needs of the community,” he said.

Officials say the spike in those going hungry is one more symptom of the worst economic slump since the early 1980s, which is hitting parts of California’s third-most populous county hard despite a median income of more than $70,000.

“Demand has skyrocketed so quickly,” Monica Horner, development manager of Second Harvest Food Bank, told Reuters in an interview. “I’ve been here for eight years and I’ve been talking to my colleagues and this is the most widespread, rapid increase we’ve seen.”

“It’s considered to be one of most affluent places but we’ve always had a hunger issue here, it’s just been very well hidden. The scary part is that it can happen to anyone now,” Horner said. “People are being laid off, seniors relying on retirement are finding that slashed.”

Horner said that her food bank, which serves some 400 member agencies across the county including shelters, rescue missions, church pantries and homes for abused women and children, has so far been able to keep up.

The Orange County Register newspaper reported that the Catholic Charities center in Santa Ana has already served almost as many people as it did all of last fiscal year and was forced to cut its hours from five days a week to three.

Editing by Eric Walsh

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