The Tampa-St.Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area ranked in the top 25 areas with the highest rates of food hardship for 2010 in a recent study by the Food Research and Action Center. Of those 25 areas, four are scattered throughout the state of Florida, making it one of the top ranked states for food hardship in the country.

Local food pantries in the Brandon area, like Emergency Care Help Organization (ECHO) and Nativity Catholic Church can attest to a spike in numbers in recent years and a change in demographics of families in need.

Stacey Efaw, executive director of ECHO, which serves the largest geographic area has noticed the effects of the statewide rate right here in Brandon. ECHO’s numbers, she explained “have been pretty stable around 3,500 people and then it started jumping up.”

Families and individuals who can answer ‘yes’ to the following question, ‘have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?,’ are considered to be experiencing food hardship.

That stable 3,500 number rose dramatically in 2010 with a whopping 11,089 people serviced. “Most of them,” Efaw explained, “recently lost their jobs or have had their hours cut.”

Tess Falkenbach, administrative manager for Nativity Catholic Church’s Food Bank has not noticed a spike in numbers but definitely a shift in demographics. Similar to what Efaw explained, Falkenbach said, “A lot of middle class families that have mortgages to pay skimp on food to pay bills.” She has also seen an increase in need within families with no children because there have been no income increases but basic necessities continue to get expensive.

The encouraging trend is that the community is still pitching in to help one another. Efaw said that although the quantity of food donations isn’t as high in bulk, schools and organizations are still hosting food drives.

ECHO located at 507 N. Parsons Ave. and is open for clients and in kind donations Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Clients are serviced until 1 p.m. The most needed items are listed on the Website at or call 685-0935. Nativity Catholic Church has a monthly collection every third weekend of the month for dropping off non-perishable and canned foods. For more information call 681-4608. For a list of other food pantries in the area call ECHO.

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