Food Banks Drawing Statewide Attention

With the kickoff of the holiday season, state politicians have stepped up their appeals to businesses, hunters and the general public to donate to food banks, with a few governors bringing in donations of their own.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo launched his " Help Your Neighbor " campaign by presenting $1.6 million in grants to eight food banks across the state, and to emergency food relief organizations in communities hit hard by the recent flooding and storms.

In neighboring New Jersey, state officials this week gave $1.3 million to the state's six food banks, part of Governor Chris Christie's " Season of Service" effort. "But the state can't do it alone," said Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagnod. "To tackle the hunger issue, we need members of the community to continue to come forward and donate food items, money and time to help our neighbors in need."

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon opted to donate to a food bank a buck he bagged while deer hunting in Pulaski County. He urged other hunters to donate venison to Missouri's Share the Harvest program, a public-private partnership that provides meat to families in need. State officials in Indiana, Maine and Pennsylvania likewise called on hunters to donate meat to local food banks.

While a record 45.8 million Americans are getting food stamps, advocates say that help is not enough with 9 percent unemployment, high food costs and high gas prices. That's why states such as Arkansas and Virginia that don't have their own "state emergency food programs" are creating them to supplement other services available for the needy. Iowa is considering creating such a program in the next legislative session, says Shannon Traeger, spokeswoman for Feeding America , a charity that describes hunger as an issue for one in six Americans. Some 39 states now have emergency food programs, she says.

California created a state emergency food program this year, but launched it "with the hope that it will get funded when the state is more flush," Traeger says. As part of the same legislation that created the emergency food program, the state decided to provide a 10 percent tax credit to growers who donate fresh fruits and vegetables to local food banks.

Many local food banks in California are reporting increases of 30 percent to 50 percent in requests for food assistance, said Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who sponsored the legislation. The San Diego food bank, for example, is feeding more people than ever before in its history, according to San Diego Food Bank CEO J. Scofield Hage. He said the new legislation "will not only increase our food supply, it will also increase the nutritional value of the food we provide to our client population."

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