The economic downturn in the United States has increased the number of hungry families across the country. The government says the rate of hunger in the United States is the highest level since 1995 with 15 percent of American households lacking access to adequate food. A record one in eight Americans relies on government food stamps.
At the MANNA Food Center outside Washington, workers prepare boxes for the growing number of people who come here to get free food. It's part of the daily routine. Despite signs that the U.S. economy is recovering, the people who run this food bank say they don't see it.
"I can tell you the lines here are longer than ever before," says Kim Damion, director of development at Manna. She says in the last year the center has given away nearly 1.6 million kilos of food, feeding more than 4,000 families a week.
"The number of families that have previously been living in a middle class environment and now victims of the current recession we are experiencing," Damion says. "These, maybe, families were a primary breadwinner has lost a job and they may be out of work for a period of time because the jobs have not come back."
Over the last two years this food bank has seen a 45 percent increase in the number of people coming here. One man says he has been out of work for a year.
"The choice is I have to eat first. The bills are going to keep coming when you are sick," he notes. "You got to keep up with your health but thanks to the MANNA Food Center I am not going hungry or anything and I have been doing this [coming to the food bank] for almost a year."
Workers box food items at the MANNA food center in Gaithersburg, Maryland
There's also a family inside. They make weekly visits to the food bank to stock up on bread and other items.
"Sometimes you are running out of food. We have four people in my family and it helps a lot," a woman explains.
Stan Dyson says he has been out of work for three years.
"It gives me extra strength you know so I can stay out during most of the day to look for a full time job or something," he says.
Besides feeding families, Kim Damion says MANNA helps one in three school children in Montgomery county at risk of hunger . The center also distributes food to children for when they are not in school for meals on Saturdays and Sundays.
"The program has grown dramatically. We are now providing 1,400 children a week with a backpack of food," she says.
Damion says with the demand for food assistance high, the center is looking to grocery stores and others in the business community to donate more food so the center doesn't have to turn anyone away.