Despite reports the economy is improving, more people are being forced to seek out charities to feed themselves and their families. Brian Barks, spokesman for the Omaha-based Food Bank for the Heartland, says a new report shows a growing number of people in the 93 counties the agency serves are looking for help with hunger.

“The statistics show there’s just over 208,000 people who would be considered food insecure,” Barks says. “This represents about 12% of the people who live in that 93-county area, which encompasses 77 counties in Nebraska and 16 in western Iowa.”

The food bank distributed ten-million pounds of food in 2011 — a 10% increase from 2009. Both Iowa and Nebraska have relatively low unemployment rates, but Barks says that doesn’t begin to tell the full story.

“What we have a problem with here in Nebraska and western Iowa, along with the rest of the country, is underemployment,” Barks says. “We have folks who may’ve had a couple of jobs, now just have one. We have folks who may’ve lost a job that have taken a job but are making far less money than they did previously.”

He says a recent trip to the Nebraska community of Grand Island shows there is a need for services in the more rural areas of the state.

“We weren’t sure exactly how many people were going to show up,” Barks says. “Four-hundred-and-fifty showed up and we took somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 pounds of food and we ran out of food and actually had to turn some people away.”

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