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In our recent special report, Out of Reach, we detailed the gaps in San Diego County’s social welfare safety net. We told you the county had the lowest food stamps participation rate in the country annually and talked to community groups who’ve seen demand for food increase as the economy continues to struggle.

Yesterday, Mitch Mitchell, chairman of the San Diego Food Bank, told the City Council’s public safety and neighborhood services committee that families across the city continue to need help with food.

Mitchell, who is also the regional vice president for San Diego Gas & Electric, asked the committee to consider allowing City Hall to be used as another place where the Food Bank could provide information on services and prescreen for food stamps. Last year, the Food Bank launched an initiative at food distribution points to give people information about more than one service, such as low-cost utility programs, as well as prescreen them for food stamps.

“It’s not enough to hand people food,” Mitchell said in an interview today.

The Mayor’s Office is looking into the possibility of allowing that at City Hall, said Geni Cavitt, spokeswoman for Councilwoman Marti Emerald, the committee’s chairwoman. Last year, Emerald drew attention to the county’s low enrollment in food stamps.

Mitchell also asked council members on the committee to record public service announcements encouraging families to sign up for food stamps and seek food from the Food Bank as a part of new public awareness campaign. The committee’s council members have agreed to record them, Cavitt said.

“For the first time, you have middle class families who’ve never had to navigate the system,” Mitchell said. “It’s a pride factor. They think ‘Maybe, I’ll get a job.’”

As the economy continued to struggle, need has skyrocketed here in a region known for its high cost of living, Mitchell said. Last year, the Food Bank distributed about 5.6 million meals in the city, or about a 48 percent increase from 2008, according to its data.

When people lose hours at work or lose their jobs, “that really has an impact,” Mitchell said. “Now we have more people that need to survive this crisis.”

— DAGNY SALAS

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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