About 16 tons of food heads out the doors of Tri-Cities Food Bank branches each week and into needy families' kitchens.
That continuing demand for food substantially has depleted the stock of food donated in holiday food drives that normally would help the food bank get through spring.
The food bank's once-full freezers have been emptied, and there are shortages of meat and some canned vegetables such as tomatoes.
John Neill, Tri-Cities Food Bank executive director, is wondering if the Richland, Kennewick and Benton City food banks will have to start giving those families less food and less variety.
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Demand for food has remained as high as it was during the holidays. Neill said they are seeing about 200 families per day seeking food when the Kennewick, Richland and Benton City food banks are all open.
Similar demand is being seen across the Mid-Columbia, where food banks are seeing an increase in demand of 30 to 50 percent, said Kathye Kilgore, Second Harvest Tri-Cities director.
Second Harvest Tri-Cities acts as the central food bank to 55 local food banks in the Columbia Basin and Yakima Valley. For many of those food banks, Kilgore said, Second Harvest is their main source of food.
Rick Stromberg, Second Harvest Tri-Cities operations manager, said Second Harvest tries to provide food aid to the food banks equitably based on the number of clients each food bank serves.
Last year, Second Harvest Tri-Cities helped area food banks get about 4 million pounds of food for hungry families. About 1 million pounds each went to St. Vincent de Paul Society's Food Bank in Pasco and the Tri-Cities Food Bank, Stromberg said.
"There is never enough," he said. "The need outstrips the available food."
Second Harvest has continued to receive food donations from food producers and retailers, Kilgore said. But the companies have become more efficient in their production processes than even five years ago, which means less food is being donated, Stromberg said.
Kilgore said local food drives have continued to do well.
"We are in a community that doesn't really know how to say no," she said.
But food need is high, she said
Neill doesn't think the Tri-Cities Food Bank will run out of food, but he said without help, it could get to the point where less food is given to each family.
Neill said cash donations have slowed to a trickle, and food left from holiday food drives mostly is gone.
That food usually helps the food bank meet needs through the spring until fresh produce starts coming from community gardeners and area farmers, Neill said.
Food bank officials also are expecting to see more families as migrant workers arrive. Neill said those families rely on the food bank to make ends meet before the agricultural season begins.
Many families that depend on the food bank have one or more of the adults working, but still need help to make it to the end of the month, Stromberg said.
Stromberg said the demand that food banks meet tends to be invisible to most area residents, but although the Tri-Cities economy has been better than others, some families still have difficulty making ends meet.
"These are perilous times," he said.
Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com