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A smart student with ambitions to attend college, Uriel has slid into depression as his family's economic situation has worsened. He sits outside a lot. He often cries. The American Dream, he declaimed angrily, means nothing to him anymore. "The weekends," he said, "I just eat soup or quesadillas. I don't eat breakfast in the mornings."
When Compton Unified moved its breakfast program into the classroom to try to tackle the kind of hunger that Uriel describes, the number of children getting meals increased by 250 percent — from 98,353 in September 2010 to 238,716 a year later.
For all the good work being done on the hunger front in California, the scale of the crisis remains daunting.
Despite having access to veggie vouchers and CalFresh, Maribel Diaz and her three sons feel a sense of dislocation following the family's slide into poverty. "I'm hoping that there is a way out of this — that everything starts getting better. But right now I feel like I'm stuck, there's no way to go, right or left. ... Poverty to me means not having access to a normal life. Not having access to go to a movie. Not having access when my kids need shoes or clothing. If it wasn't for the CalFresh program, we would have no access to food. If it wasn't for those programs out there helping us, I'd basically be a homeless person. "
For Marcy Glickman, that sense of dislocation has been just as profound. These days, with her income having been reduced from $10,000 a month to $1,000, Glickman has lost her house to foreclosure, her car to the repo man. She now lives in a small apartment, relying on monthly disability checks and on a network of food charities to put enough food on her table. "I started collecting coupons for groceries. ... We ended up having to get food stamps. At first I felt embarrassed, but after a while I realized, 'At least we're eating.'"
These stories are unfortunately all too common these days, said Jessica Jones of the Los Angeles Food Bank. "We get stories like that almost all the time," she explained. "The people who did everything right and had the rug pulled out from under them. And the people who were already struggling are struggling even more. When I first started [working at the food bank] in December 2008, we served 39 million pounds of food. In 2010, we did 62 million pounds of food. The number of people we serve has gone up by 73 percent since the recession started."
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