Inland Empire

By Neil Nisperos, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
and Ryan Hagen, San Bernardino Sun
Posted: 09/18/13, 7:39 PM PDT | Updated: 28 secs ago

A worsening poverty picture put the Inland Empire first among the nation’s 25 largest metropolitan areas, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Thursday.

In 2012, 20.4 percent of San Bernardino County residents lived below the federal poverty line, an increase of 1.1 percentage points from the year before and 6.0 percentage points from 2008.

That’s seen in requests for assistance from Second Harvest Food Bank, where an all-time record of 30 million pounds of food was given out in San Bernardino and Riverside counties last year, said Executive Director Daryl Brock.

It’s seen in the numbers for the city of San Bernardino, which according to the Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey had a poverty rate of 31.1 percent and an unemployment rate of 17.5 percent in 2012, the year the city filed for bankruptcy.

And it’s seen in faces like Dawn Mendoza’s.

Mendoza, 49, said she’s been receiving food from Mary’s Table in San Bernardino for the last five years.

“They’re wonderful, so helpful that I don’t know what I’d do without them,” Mendoza said, smiling but looking sadly downward whenever the conversation lagged.

Until recently, though, Mendoza participated in the weekly grocery pickup — beans, rice and other items that can be cooked by those who have a home but are struggling to make ends meet.

On Wednesday she picked up a different bag, one filled with fruit and other foods intended for people who don’t have stoves or other ways of preparing a meal.

“My boyfriend and I had a bit of a fight, so I’m kind of homeless now,” she said.

The number of people fed is cyclical in some ways — many more at the end of the month, for instance — but overall has increased significantly from four years ago and a bit from one year ago, said Marsha Olguin, executive director of Mary’s Table, which is part of Mary’s Mercy Center. Olguin estimates they give out about 8,000 hot meals every month.

“Our volunteers have increased and we have enough food to give out, so we feel blessed,” Olguin said just after receiving a handwritten thank-you note from a woman who’s been coming to the center for 20 years. “This is only possible because of God.”

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