(Bloomberg News) After losing her job as a consultant for nonprofits, Martha Heassler and her husband, a graphic artist, no longer had money for their daughter's college education, new clothing or groceries.
"We're waiting for my husband's paycheck, and we probably have less than $200 to our name," Heassler, 55, said by phone.
She now makes weekly trips to the Open Door Food Pantry in Gloucester, Massachusetts, to pick up bags of food that include meat, eggs, yogurt and vegetables.
"Without the network of food pantries around us, I don't know how we would have eaten," said Heassler, who holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from Gordon College, in Wenham, Massachusetts.
As the sluggish economy idles more middle-class individuals and families, their donations to food banks and soup kitchens have evaporated, hitting the nonprofits from both ends.
"We're seeing many faces from the middle class who had been donors who now need support from our food bank," Terry Shannon, president and chief executive officer of the Phoenix, Arizona-based St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance, said by phone. "Right now, our donations are softer than we would like them to be."
The Greater Boston Food Bank, which supplies food to Open Door, has had a 23 percent increase in need since 2008 when the U.S. economy entered a recession. Last year, it distributed about 37 million pounds of food, or about 28.2 million meals.
"We're acquiring more food and distributing more food, and the demand always outpaces the source," Catherine D'Amato, president and chief executive officer of the food bank, said by phone.
In the past year, corporate dismissals have left middle-class and white-collar workers stranded from the job market, causing many to seek public assistance and help from food charities.
Only about 7 percent of those who lost jobs after the 2008 financial crisis have found work that matched or exceeded their previous job, according to a study released last month by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. The survey of 1,200 unemployed U.S. workers selected at random was conducted between August 2009 and August 2011.