Cupboards are bare at food banks and distribution centers that serve the poor throughout Orange County, according to Judy Bowden, executive director of 2-1-1 Orange County, the nonprofit that guides those in need to resources.
"Right now our food pantries are bare. They need food," Bowden told those assembled at the organization's annual meeting Thursday.
Orange County has about 175 sources of emergency food, ranging from churches, where those in need can select canned goods, to huge warehouses like Irvine-based Second Harvest, which supplies food to 470 member outlets.
"Food is literally flying off our shelves right now," said Monica Horner, Second Harvest's interim development director. "The warehouse is pretty bare."
Second Harvest receives donations of money and buys food. It also receives surplus food from supermarkets, food distributors, manufacturers and restaurants.
While homeless people often are mentioned as being in need, charity workers say the recession has created a large, less visible source of demand: working adults who don't earn enough to pay both rent and buy food.
Steve Kight, chief strategy officer for OC Partnership, the organization leading county efforts to end homelessness within eight years, said the extent of need "is a new experience for Orange County."
Homeless people are living on the streets, in parks, along stream and river beds and in cars. But uncounted numbers of individuals and families are nearly invisible because they are "couch surfing" — moving from relative to relative and friend to friend.
"I wish I could tell you how many homeless families are in Orange County," Kight said. "I wouldn't even hazard a guess."
The big problems, he said, are unemployment and underemployment.
According to information from 2-1-1, the 2010 Orange County Community Indicators Report estimates that to rent a one-bedroom apartment a person must earn about $53,000 a year.
"Given that roughly 13 percent of Orange County households fall below the federal poverty line of $22,050 for a family of four, many Orange County families cannot afford the average rental price," the report said.
The name 2-1-1 is taken from the phone number anyone can dial to receive information about food assistance, transportation, prenatal care, substance abuse, government assistance programs, child and elder care and other social problems.
— TRACY WOOD