BERKELEY -- Tamela Hopson's job as an aide teaching special-education students in Oakland just doesn't cut it. Curtis Green's in-home care gig for an elderly man doesn't, either, and he has two boys, 7 and 9, to feed.
Both Berkeley residents rely on the Berkeley Food Pantry to supplement what's on the table at mealtime about once a month.
"It's the economy," Hopson, 27, said as she loaded up on groceries at the Sacramento Street pantry recently as a line snaked out the door, around a corner and into the parking lot. "I can't afford to go shopping like I used to. This stuff really helps complete my meals."
During Hopson's latest trip to the pantry -- each resident is allowed one visit per month -- she brought her grandmother, two nephews and a niece.
Green, 49, and his girlfriend, Juanita Burton, were at the pantry recently and talked about the sorry state of employment opportunities in the East Bay. Green said he would love to land a seasonal Christmas job, something in construction, warehouse work or accounting. It has been six months since he had full-time work.
"It's kind of hard for us," Green said. "We're seeking jobs right now, but there's not much out there. It's so competitive and there's so many people. Then the price of gas makes it hard to take any job that's far away."
Green said he has been going to the Berkeley Food Pantry for about five years.
The pantry, which distributes emergency food to about 2,000 individuals or about 700 families in Berkeley and Albany each month since 1969, is seeing its highest demand in recent memory, even more so than the dire straits after the national financial meltdown of 2008 and 2009, said director Bill Shive.
"Week by week there are more people coming in," said Shive, who has worked at the pantry for five years. "The demand keeps growing."
Shive said the pantry gets its food from the Alameda County Food Bank, local grocery stores including Andronico's and from individual donations.
The pantry recently got a new influx of food through a program where neighbors in the area around Sacramento and Cedar streets donate items and the pantry picks them up from their homes.
"It's called the Neighborhood Food Project," Shive said. "Neighbors are asked to buy an extra item every time they go to the grocery store. They put it in a bag and when it's ready, our neighborhood coordinator goes and picks it up."
Shive said the pantry has been getting about 1,000 pounds of food every two months from neighbors, and he hopes it keeps growing.
But that still is not meeting the demand, he said. The pantry, in the Berkeley Friends Church at Sacramento and Cedar streets, is always looking for donations of food and money. The money donated to the pantry buys fresh groceries such as milk, meat and eggs. Food donations needed regularly include canned meats, soups and fruit, peanut butter, rice, pasta, cereal, fruit juice, cookies and snacks, garden produce and boxes of macaroni and cheese. Donations are accepted from 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Another way to donate aside from cash and food is to organize a food drive through a school, church or other organization. The pantry also accepts donations via credit card on its website, www.berkeleyfoodpantry.vpweb.com.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.
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