Renee Abu-Zaghibra/Daily Journal
The thrill of a new toy gives a young boy a smile at the toy distribution event hosted by Samaritan House.
As families grappling with the skyrocketing cost of living locally face tough decisions splitting limited resources during the holiday season, charity organizations are receiving more calls for assistance.
Second Harvest Food Bank and Samaritan House have seen heightened demand for help with meals, housing, health care and other services than years past, which officials attributed to the housing crisis plaguing San Mateo County.
Some residents are struggling to pay their rent and bills, while still being able to afford food, clothing and other essentials goods, as the local economy roars and the cost of living soars, said Samaritan House CEO Bart Charlow.
“So many people are being squeezed mercilessly by housing prices, they are having to make tough decisions. Presents for children go way down on the list,” he said. “It is very, very difficult for people right now.”
Tami Cardenas, vice president of Development and Marketing at Second Harvest Food Bank, agreed with many of those sentiments.
“Second Harvest has seen a troubling jump in the amount of people receiving food,” she said.
Demand for meals from the food bank which serves San Mateo and Santa Clara counties has increased by 6 percent from this time last year, said Cardenas.
The food bank has seen a steady increase of clients since March, which she said has coincided with an increase in rents residents throughout the area have faced.
“If your rent has increased, that might be your food budget,” she said.
Second Harvest Food Bank served 257,785 people in October, according to the organization’s most recent data, which is a 55 percent jump from the period of time prior to the Great Recession.
Despite the general awareness that living locally is more expensive than it has been in the past, Cardenas said charitable organizations tend to struggle when the economy thrives.
Those who may donate to charities when the market dips are less inclined to do so during boom times, due in part to the assumption that everyone has greater access to more opportunities and resources.
“We are really concerned about the good news about the economy,” she said. “Because the community won’t realize there are more people struggling to feed their families than there were a year ago.”
She said that fear has come to fruition in the form of donations to Second Harvest this year, as the food bank is $9.6 million short of its $15 million fundraising goal for the holiday season.
A bulk of the donations to Second Harvest Food Bank are received in the weeks before Christmas, said Cardenas.
She expressed apprehension regarding whether the charity might reach its target for the season, in the face of its increased demand.
“This community has always been very generous,” she said. “I am cautiously optimistic, but still nervous. It’s a big goal.”
For every dollar donated to the food bank, Second Harvest can generate two meals for underprivileged families, said Cardenas.
For his part, Charlow agreed his organization has an inordinate amount of people who are looking to Samaritan House for assistance.
“We have people who are in need all year, every year,” he said. “But this year is exceptionally high.”
He said he was unsure of how well the organization was doing on its fundraising drive this year, but added there is no shortness in demand for resources which can be used to help local residents.
“It is a package of needs that people have.” said Charlow. “If you are short on money, everything is a crisis.”
As the weather turns cold, winter coats for children and $25 gift certificates for teens to buy winter clothing are currently the biggest needs for Samaritan House, said Charlow.
Despite the challenging conditions for charities, Charlow said he is confident Samaritan House will receive ample support from local residents.
“We live in a wonderful place,” he said. “People are very generous.”
Cardenas said she agreed.
“The need is high, but we are extremely grateful for the support of the community,” she said.
Charlow said though some become increasingly aware of those in need during the holidays, he added the issue will persist, as the cost of living continues to rise throughout the region.
“I hope people will remember that even past the holiday season, there are families who need help here all year long,” he said.
Those interested in donating to Samaritan House should visit samaritanhousesanmateo.org or call 344-1651. Donations can be made to Second Harvest Food Bank by visiting shfb.org or calling 610-0800.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105