An empty refrigerator is a much better predictor of a troubled future than a crystal ball.
The refrigerators at the Tri-Cities Food Bank are not empty, but the goods inside are getting skimpy, and Director John Neill forecasts a summer of increased demands as supplies and money continue to slide.
This is an early indication that the economic hard times we have until now, for the most part, dodged or barely felt could come here next.
Hunger isn't a problem limited to the unemployed. 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.
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At the moment, money is perhaps the thing most needed by the food banks.
They welcome every kind of foodstuff. Nothing is wasted and their suppliers -- grocery stores, Second Harvest, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others -- are as generous as they can be.
But money especially is tight and the food bank staff is in a better position than most to know how to use it.
(No one at the food bank is paid. Every penny of contributions and every leaf of lettuce that's usable goes to the people who need help.)
But when food bank volunteers have some money, they can buy precious things such as eggs or bulk specials on meat.
In an interview by Herald reporter Kristi Pihl, we learned from Neill that about 16 tons of food is given to the needy by the Tri-Cities Food Bank each week.
Neill expects demand to increase as the year goes on and migrant workers arrive. Neill told Pihl those families rely on the food bank to make ends meet before the agricultural season begins.
But even before then, the amount of food given to each family could become more restricted.
Neither Neill nor the director of Second Harvest, Kathye Kilgore, think it likely they will run out of food -- it's more a question of providing adequate nutritional value.
To donate food or money to Tri-Cities Food Banks, the addresses are:
w Kennewick Food Bank, 420 Deschutes Ave., Kennewick, 99336.
w Richland Food Bank, 321 Wellsian Way, Richland, 99352.
w Benton City Food Bank, 712 10th St., Benton City, 99320.
w Second Harvest Tri-Cities, www.2-harvest.org, P.O. Box 6166, Kennewick, 99336, or call 585-3924.
Many service clubs, churches and houses of worship have designated spots for collecting donated food items. Some conduct fundraising activities for the food banks. Some religious organizations operate their own food banks.
One thing is sure: If you want to help a needy family eat, there are many ways to get that help to them.
And now would be a good time to do it.