Food pantries can be a barometer for how the economy is affecting the neediest families. People at the Arlington Food Assistance Center say demand for food is not letting up this holiday season, though there are some signs of change.
Every weekday, from 10 a.m. to noon, hungry Arlington residents line up at the center for their share of free groceries. The past couple of years have brought nearly unprecedented demand, and 20-year-old Harry Rivera, who visits the food bank regularly, says the need is still growing.
"It's getting worse because...there's more people every time I'm here," Rivera says.
Norm Lamberg has been volunteering at the organization for five years and says he isn't seeing a slowdown either.
"I feel that it's as heavy today as it has been in the past," he says.
But there are small signs that the hardest times may be passing. Executive Director Charlie Meng says though the center serves about 10 new families each month, that's better than the 100 new families applying for assistance each month one year ago.
And as volunteers sort through cans of donated food, they're seeing expiration dates that haven't passed.
"It's a sign that people are willing to spend money because all of it is newly bought. So they've gone to the store to buy specifically for AFAC," Meng says.
Still, he says it's hard to be hopeful for many of his clients. Meng says they are likely the last people to rise out of the recession.