Rosalinde Block receives $241 a month in food assistance for her and her 18-year-old son, to add to the money coming in from the piano lessons she teaches and the art commissions she gets. In one of the world's most expensive cities, it's not enough.
"That goes pretty fast," said Block, 59, of the amount she got for September, "it was already gone by the 12th or the 15th."
So Block, who lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side, adds to it with visits every other month to a food pantry in nearby Harlem, where she'll get some chicken or milk, or some ingredients for soup or a few other meals. It's been like this for a couple of years.
A report released Wednesday by Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization, finds that food banks that were originally created to serve as stop-gap emergency food providers are now taking a long-term, chronic role for Americans turning to them routinely to get enough to eat.
The organization's Hunger in America 2010 report, the "Food Banks: Hunger's New Staple," found through data compiled in 2009 that 18 percent of those surveyed said they used food pantries six to 11 months of the previous year, while 36 percent they used them every month.
The survey also found that among those 65 years and older, 56 percent went to a food pantry every month. And even those receiving aid in the form of supplemental nutrition money still needed more help, with 58 percent of them being frequent or monthly users.
"Those dollars don't go very far," said Vicki Escarra, president of the Chicago-based Feeding America.
The report "really puts kind of a fine point on the fact that food banks are becoming the new normal for a large percentage of the population," she said.
It's not the role they were created for, she said, "but we are doing that right now because we have to."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 14.5 percent U.S. households, about 17 million, were termed "food-insecure" in 2010, a jump from about 11 percent in 2007. Of those households, 6.4 million had very low food security, meaning one or more members of the household had eating patterns disrupted because of lack of money or other resources for food.
They're people like Madeline Smart of Fort Smith, Ark. The 72-year-old retired widow said there's no way she can afford enough food with the money she gets from Social Security and $16 in supplemental food assistance.
So she buys what she can, adding to that with whatever she finds that's still good to eat in the grocery store's garbage bin, and recently, with food she's gotten from the food pantry at her church.
"I would be suffering; I would be having a hard time" if it wasn't for the help she gets, she said.
Marisol DeLeon would be having a hard time, too. The 46-year-old Bronx mother gets disability payments and food assistance to help feed the three children who live with her, but it's still not enough for the fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods they're trying to eat.
So three times a month, she goes to food pantries, where she gets a variety of canned and fresh vegetables, rice and other foods. Not having that help would make it impossible to get what they need. For example, a recent visit to the food pantry had her bringing home some cherry tomatoes. She was curious, so she checked at the store to see what they cost.
"They had them for almost $4," she said. "Who can afford that?"
Deepti Hajela can be reached at http://twitter.com/dhajela