SOUTH GLENDALE — Shortly after noon on Thursday, Glendale resident Jermin Tulgar carefully sorted through several bags of groceries as she sat in a front office of Salvation Army Glendale.
Within each bag she found a variety of food products, including bread, cereal, granola bars and a sampling of canned soups, sauces and vegetables.
A regular client of the Salvation Army's food pantry, Tulgar is one of nearly 300,000 Los Angeles County residents who receive monthly food assistance, according to a report released Thursday by the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank.
From April to June, an average 284,131 people were served each month by one of the 500 Los Angeles County food pantries, which are in turn served by the regional food bank.
That's an increase of about 20% compared to the same period last year, and a nearly 50% increase over two years, officials said.
"The strain on the food pantry network is pretty significant and we are hearing this every day," said Michael Flood, chief executive officer for the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. "The demand for food assistance is not letting up."
The demand is getting to be too much for some pantries, which have had to temporarily close their doors because of empty shelves or refer prospective clients to other shelters, he added.
Officials at local food pantries say they have also seen a spike in service requests during the recession, but say that community donations and grant funding have helped them meet the increased demand.
"We have been able to keep up with the demand through the generosity of the community," said Rick White, director of social services at Salvation Army Glendale, which serves about 1,000 people at its food pantry each month.
In Burbank, Barbara Howell, executive director of the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, said she has seen a nearly 300% increase in requests for service in recent years.
While donations haven't necessarily kept up, Howell said she has been able to fill the gap by purchasing food with about $20,000 in grant funding.
"We have not had to turn people away," she said.
Thursday's report cited continued double-digit unemployment rates as a major driver behind the steady demand at food pantries.
"It's all related to the economy, people having their hours cut back, losing their jobs," said Lora Young, program coordinator for Loaves and Fishes, a food bank in south Glendale operated by Catholic Charities of Los Angeles Inc.
The pantry continues to see first-time clients who have never had to seek food assistance before, she added.
Los Angeles County Regional Foodbank officials warned the demand could remain high for at least another year since economists don't expect unemployment rates to drop significantly any time soon.
Coming off of summer, which is typically a slow time for food donations, local shelter operators said they are hopeful community food drives during the fall and holiday seasons will help replenish supplies.
"We are getting a little nervous as we approach the holidays," Howell said. "We are hopeful, but a little bit concerned that we will be able to keep up with that need."