Caryll-Lynn Taylor, a leader of Midtown Court Neighbors and Friends, said she became aware of the the growing need as part of the City of Palo Alto's Family Resources Ambassador Program. There are families who don't qualify for safety-net programs.
"So many neighbors were being turned away because their income level was too high, but yet they were unable to pay for their basic needs," she said.
A greater number of people are finding themselves in need as rents have risen in the improving economy, she said.
"They said, 'What do I do now? I'm in crisis,'" Taylor recalled of the residents she's spoken to.
Food is critical to helping people move out of their financial dilemmas, Taylor said.
"When we feed families, we begin to have stable households when these families are fortified nutritionally."
Dr. Lars Osterberg, co-director of the Stanford School of Medicine's Arbor Free Clinic in Menlo Park, agreed. The problem isn't so much a lack of food as it is one of a nutritionally deficient diet, he said.
"We see a lot of patients who rely on food services in the area. However, a lot of it is cheap food that is high in carbohydrates and promotes diabetes and high cholesterol," he said.
A clinic study several years ago screened people at food-service centers. Many clients had cardiovascular disease, he said. Factors such as smoking and substance abuse contributed to the problem, but food choices and lack of availability exacerbate health problems, he said. Among immigrant populations that are not used to American diets, cheap fast food and refined sugar are creating more heart disease and diabetes, he said.
Osterberg and Taylor discussed how to strategically provide a balanced diet.
"We'd love to see more of that," he said, praising the group's focus on high-fiber and fresh foods.
Taylor said the idea for a food drive came after seeing a notice in the Palo Verde neighborhood newsletter. She contacted the food-drive leader, Jana Baxter, about how to set up one for her neighborhood. The outreach led to serving 62 households. Among them, there were 12 seniors and 39 children. Some residents have disabilities, she said.
Taylor spoke to the food recipients and learned that some had specific dietary restrictions. Several seniors also said they had been diagnosed with anemia. Taylor started thinking about how to supplement their nutrition.
For the holiday food drive, the group received cash to purchase fresh fruit, vegetables and meats. Volunteers put together a menu and wish list of iron-rich foods such as frozen spinach and beef liver. They added edamame (soybeans), frozen and dried lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and other foods to supplement diets. Eighteen families received holiday pork roasts, she said.
"We were extremely mindful of not providing packaged foods," Taylor said.
Local stores also chipped in, offering items at or below cost, and in some cases, even for free.
There was enough food for a week of breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and snacks, Taylor said.
One 48-year-old recipient who lives in Midtown said the groceries have helped greatly.
The mother of three asked that her name not be published. She and her children all have food allergies, and she cannot eat canned and processed foods because preservatives trigger intense migraines, she said. One of her sons may be developing diabetes.
The mother, who is disabled, reached a financial crisis last year after a substantial rent increase, she said. The groceries arrived at a critical time.
"I couldn't use my credit card anymore. I was using that to shop," she said.
The food donations fit her challenging family needs, she added.
"It's well-rounded. It's not a bunch of pasta and canned foods."
Taylor said Neighbors Helping Neighbors harkens back to a time when helping those in need was a given within communities.
"I remember my grandmother telling me about having a strong community." she said of the generations of farmers from which she is descended.
"When neighbors were in trouble, neighbors came to their aid before anyone asked. There was no shame in needing help. There was none of this business of coming on the sly — of 'I don't want my neighbors to know,'" she said.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors food drives are being coordinated through Caryll-Lynn Taylor, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.