Burlingame resident Claudia Bruce was laid off from her well-paying job 13 months ago after the economy fell. Now, Bruce is among a growing number of people who, in what seemed like an instant, went from middle class incomes to relying on public assistance.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties fed a record-breaking 272,000 people in November. That 16 percent increase from the same time last year denotes a concerning trend for the 300 or so local agencies distributing its food.

At Bruce's last job, she made about $70,000 a year managing an office for a telecommunications startup in Redwood Shores. In October 2008, the company cuts its staff in half and let Bruce go.

She now receives $950 in unemployment benefits every two weeks. Up until now she's been able to juggle her monthly expenses — $1,550 plus utilities for her two-bedroom apartment, $130 cell phone bill, $105 for cable and Internet, as well as minimum credit card payments.

But Bruce started getting food from local food banks in January when her unemployment checks were delayed because of high demand.

"I sort of feel bad for all the people who are in the same boat as me," Bruce said. "It brought home how serious and far-reaching it is."

This is the first time in Bruce's life that she's been on public assistance. She says her groceries from CALL Primrose in Burlingame and Samaritan House in San Mateo save her $200 to $300 a month. Even then, money's tight. So tight, in fact, that she has to give up the Burlingame apartment she's lived in for 11 years.

Second Harvest, the Peninsula's largest food bank provider, supplies CALL Primrose and Samaritan House.

Overall requests for food at CALL Primrose are up 60 percent, according to Executive Director Mary Watt. She said they are seeing 10-12 new requests a week now, instead of the previous 10 per month.

Sixty percent of Call Primrose's food comes from Second Harvest, where officials say the majority of new clients are like Bruce — out of work and never asked for help before.

Unfortunately, the demand for food is rising but donations are way down.

Second Harvest made 6,900 referrals on its community food hot line in November. The average is about 4,000, according to spokeswoman Lynn Crocker.

That's a chilling sign of what's to come considering Second Harvest is barely halfway to meeting its holiday fundraising drive goal of $10 million and 2 million pounds of food, she said.

While many of the people who account for the 20 percent increase in monthly food requests from Second Harvest are like Bruce, the system is still flooded with those who have been getting help for much longer and still have no job prospects.

Bruce is a divorced mother of two with grown children and has family in the Bay Area who can help her until she finds a new job, which she says she is still optimistic about.

Even without a four-year degree, Bruce believes her two-year degree in business administration, her experience and work history will eventually land her another middle management position. Until then, she anticipates needing local food banks.

Bruce volunteered to tell her story to the Times to help shed light on the breadth of people in need this year and the dire need for donations. Twice she went to Samaritan House and there was nothing in the pantry.

"About a month ago it happened two days in a row," Bruce said. "They were panicking."