The demand for food assistance from local pantries has risen 16.4 percent compared to last year and increased a staggering 43.9 percent over the last two years throughout Los Angeles County, according to a recent policy brief issued by the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank.

The report, released to coincide with Hunger Action Month, cites high unemployment and a struggling economy as the primary causes for the surge in food assistance.

“Hundreds of thousands of families in Los Angeles County, including many families who never imagined they would need food assistance, are either suffering from hunger or at risk of going hungry,” said Michael Flood, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. “We’re distributing more food to local pantries than ever before, yet it’s still not enough to keep pace with the growing need in the community.”

The food bank provides the equivalent of 800,000 meals every week to 590 charitable agencies throughout the county reaching one million people annually. The need is higher as an estimated 1.6 million county residents struggle with feeding themselves, according to the food bank.

The policy brief stated that in Los Angeles County alone, 655,100 people were unemployed as of July, and nearly 300,000 workers are now unemployed since late 2007, when the recession began. In addition to the influx of former wage earners seeking food assistance, interviews with other food recipients reveal that many workers remain employed at reduced hours, placing additional strains on household budgets.

“As this recession continues, we are seeing a record number of applications for the Food Stamp Program. We are encouraging everyone that needs assistance and qualifies to apply for this federal benefit,” stated Jacob Aguilar, assistant director of the Bureau of Program and Policy of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services. “We want to make sure that basic food needs are being met for as many families and individuals as possible.”

For information on how to find a local food pantry,

Information about the food stamp program and other programs run by Los Angeles County, (877) 597-4777.