The food pantry plans to expand a pilot program begun in Acton a year ago, where eligible clients pick up food once a month at the Acton Presbyterian Church. Crawford is finalizing plans to establish satellite centers in Canyon Country and Castaic/Val Verde because the demand there is great, she said. “I hate they’re using what little money they have for taxi service or bus service,” she said. The group provides food for about 14 percent of Santa Clarita residents who qualify for the service. According to a 2002 study conducted by the city of Santa Clarita, 16 percent of households within city limits earn less than $29,999 a year. Households can earn 150 percent of the federal poverty level to partake in the food pantry services, which for a family of four is $30,000 a year. In Los Angeles County, 957,000 people are “food-insecure,” said Darren Hoffman, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. He said that is one-third of the 2.9 million statewide who cannot reliably afford food. He said Santa Clarita’s population of families that can’t afford food mirrors the 8 percent in the county, the hunger capital of the nation. The regional agency operates a mobile program on a larger scale. A big rig loaded with 40,000 pounds of food unloads its wares at hubs in the San Fernando Valley, Palmdale and Lancaster, where a handful of charities pick up their share. The SCV Food Pantry receives emergency supplies from the regional agency. Hoffman lamented that countywide, just 50 percent of those eligible for food stamps are receiving them. He hopes public-education campaigns can change that. “The more people we can get in the program, the fewer people who would rely on the resources of the food bank,” he said. “It will help some of the hunger problems and bring in hundreds of millions of federal dollars distributed to this program, which is under-utilized in the county.” Crawford said people can come to the pantry Wednesdays to sign up for food stamps. Most of the pantry’s donations come from concerned citizens but, through the Harvest Program, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut urge franchise owners to donate leftover food instead of discarding it. Olive Garden and Red Lobster have joined in. People who assume they can easily spot recipients should think again. Lupe Lopez, director of the local office of the Los Angeles County Department of Community and Senior Services, said many who walk through the agency’s doors are mainstream folks – working- and middle-class people, many heading single-parent households. “The families we’re seeing who are beginning to feel the pinch and are starting to suffer – who are not able to put enough food on the table – are those at the lower rungs of the economic scale,” she said. “No matter what, they must pay their rent. If they lose their housing, they get sucked into this vortex they can’t get out of.” Their credit scores and status on tenancy lists plummet. Mainstream senior citizens whose Social Security checks can’t be stretched far enough to cover rent, food, medicine, gas and utilities are seeking help more and more. “They’re swallowing their pride,” Lopez said. “They’re short $20, $50 each month and they’re borrowing money from children, friends. They’re not being able to make do.” The group operates a small food pantry. Erin Moore-Lay, an administrative analyst for the city, noted that property values directly correlate to increasing rent, and that rents have risen. “When a family on $30,000 a year is paying $1,000 for rent, it’s going to change their ability to buy other goods when their rent goes up to $1,500,” she said. “It may change their situation sufficiently that they can’t pay for their other needs, so some of the people in those situations may turn to the food pantry to offset the increase in their rent.” There is no rent control in Santa Clarita, and while the rise in property values is a boon for property owners, it can be a downer for renters. “We’ve created an amazing place to live here,” she said. The great schools and parks are family magnets, but alas, the rental rates are subject to supply and demand. “As our valley continues to grow, so does the number of our neighbors in need,” Crawford said. firstname.lastname@example.org (661) 257-5255 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The U.S. Department of Agriculture describes people who don’t have access to food at all times as “food-insecure.” Once a month the pantry delivers to a homebound disabled Canyon Country woman, helping her avoid the label. “I’m lucky if I have $175 for food a month,” the 58-year-old woman said. “With the food pantry delivering me a bag a food once a month, it helps out.” From her monthly Social Security disability payments of $1,209 she covers prescriptions, utilities and $780 in rent, which is due to rise in June. Crawford said most of the pantry’s senior citizen clients net half that – $600 to $800 a month from Social Security – as their sole income. A 70-year-old retired Castaic woman receives $700 a month, about the same amount as her monthly rent and utilities. “Whatever I have left goes for food,” she said. “This way I can buy a little bit of other things, maybe meat.” A 62-year-old Acton woman collects and recycles bottles and cans to earn food money. SANTA CLARITA – Economic indicators presume good times ahead but some who scrimp to pay bills find food a luxury they can’t afford. A local food pantry is putting wheels on its operation, planning to open part-time distribution centers in outlying areas to meet the need. “I’m sorry to say our numbers continue to grow,” said Belinda Crawford, executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry. The group distributed more than 400,000 pounds of staples for the fiscal year that ended June 30, and more has been given each month this year than last year, Crawford said. Half of its nearly 3,000 clients are children; 953 families participate.