Sometimes it comes down to a burrito.
For Suzie Rosenberg, frozen burritos had long been a mainstay of a food brokerage business she ran with her husband in Sacramento. Together, they distributed frozen goods and other items to convenience stores up and down California and across Nevada. Burritos were the heart of their business, gobbled by construction workers in the booming construction industry, and providing 80 percent of their income.
Then the bottom fell out of the economy, and along with it the construction industry. More and more construction workers lost their jobs, fewer and fewer burritos were consumed, and Rosenberg received fewer and fewer orders for the item. A year ago, her supplier, Windsor Foods, stopped making burritos. Last summer, with their van repossessed and unable to make a go of it on other food products such as pierogi, Rosenberg, a 58-year-old grandmother, faced a chilling new reality—food stamps.
She is not alone. In Sacramento County, where 12 percent of people are out of work, hunger has become an increasingly ordinary fact of everyday life. Once you start looking, hunger is everywhere: Mom-and-pop stores with handwritten signs encouraging people to pay with food stamps; collection bins for canned goods at Midtown grocery stores and Starbucks; a popular annual race at Thanksgiving to raise funds for the hungry; a food drive for furloughed state workers last summer; a food pantry for students at UC Davis. Since 2008, Sacramento County applications for food stamps have risen steadily by more than 20,000. (see “Hunger pains”; SN&R Frontlines; October 28, 2010).
Despite this mainstreamed quality of local hunger, Rosenberg still felt, as many do, sheepish about needing the help.
“I have never been on any government program of any kind,” she said. “I felt ashamed and embarrassed about it.”
Rosenberg lives on the edge of Curtis Park on nice residential street in a rented garden apartment. She could be your neighbor, or the friendly woman making conversation in line at the store. She has two adult children and is a former homeowner in Fairfield.
Visit a local food bank and you will see plenty of others just like her.