Economy affecting Tri-State food banks

August 13, 2009|By JULIE GREENE

TRI-STATE -- A food bank in Chambersburg, Pa., is closing temporarily.

A Jefferson County, W.Va., food bank recently sent out an urgent request for food as it sees, on average, 28 new families a month.

And a Washington County food bank has lifted the suspension of its popular brown bag program after an influx of donations.

Officials with some Tri-State-area food banks reported increases in clients since early 2008 as the economy worsened and people lost jobs. This increase in clients and, for some, a decrease in funds, is affecting food banks to varying degrees.


On July 20, Food Resources Inc. suspended its brown bag program, which supplies food to approximately 500 households, because its food inventory was diminishing.

That program was restarted, at a reduced level, Aug. 10 after regional food banks, foundations, businesses and individuals donated food or money to Food Resources, Executive Director Ruth Anne Callaham said.

Participants in the brown bag program will receive 40 pounds of food per household a month rather than the usual 75 pounds.

Callaham said several offers of help, including two from Washington County foundations, were a result of a story that ran July 30 in The Herald-Mail.

One foundation donated $15,000, while another foundation, knowing the food bank would get immediate help from other sources, offered to help once that influx slowed down, Callaham said.

"I can't say enough about the foundations who watch the paper and keep an eye on how the nonprofits are doing," she said.

During the program's suspension, families were called in to pick up fresh produce after large donations of peaches, potatoes and corn, Callaham said.

Allenberg Orchards near Smithsburg donated approximately 80 crates of good quality peaches, and two local growers and a wholesaler dropped off hundreds of ears of corn, Callaham said. Celebration Farm in Maugansville, which grows produce for the needy to be distributed through Food Resources, contributed 2,000 pounds of potatoes.

Trickle-down effect

Food Resources did not suspend its donations to about 25 food pantries and agencies in Washington County, thanks to expected stimulus money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Callaham said.

The South Central Community Action Programs (SCCAP) on Aug. 21 will temporarily close its food pantry in Chambersburg, Pa., and suspend food donations to several food pantries in the county due to a state budget impasse, Executive Director Megan Shreve said.

"We don't know when it will reopen. We're still looking for miracles, trying desperately to do what we can," Shreve said.

The Pennsylvania Legislature is more than a month late in approving a budget for the current fiscal year, so aid checks for programs such as SCCAP were suspended, Shreve has said. The state owes SCCAP about $1.2 million, she said.

SCCAP's main food pantry in Chambersburg serves 2,486 low-income Franklin County residents a month. Clients receive bags of canned and boxed food, meat and vegetables.

Shreve said she did not know whether the five church-based food pantries to which SCCAP contributes would be able to continue without interruption while SCCAP's donations are suspended.

The food pantry at Church of the Brethren in Waynesboro, Pa., relies on SCCAP for almost all of its food supplies, said Marcella S. Waltz, a volunteer with the food pantry. Waltz said she was waiting for news from SCCAP, but the food pantry would give out what it has left.

Sarah Harmon, coordinator of the food pantry at Greencastle (Pa.) Presbyterian Church, said in addition to SCCAP donations, the pantry is supplemented by community donations.

"We wouldn't be able to give out as much without (SCCAP)," Harmon said. The pantry has about 70 families it serves monthly, double the 35 families it served about 18 months ago.

'Just holding on'

In West Virginia, Jefferson County Community Ministries (JCCM) sent out an emergency request in July to its member churches that its food bank needed more food, Executive Director William Willingham said.

"We've been hit pretty hard in the last couple months, but our 51 churches have stepped up to bat and really helped us," Willingham said.

In addition to donations, JCCM typically buys 300 to 400 pounds of food a month to serve its clients, he said. In July, the food bank had to buy 2,230 pounds of food to keep up with increased demand.

Through July, the food bank in Charles Town has served 1,541 families or 4,690 people this year, Willingham said. That's on pace to surpass 2008's total of 2,798 families served, and 2008 saw a significant jump in new clients.

Starting in 2008, the food bank had an average of 29 new families a month, compared to the previous average of 15 to 17 new families a month, Willingham said.

Willingham attributed the increase to people who have lost their jobs and/or cannot find new ones.

Many people are "just holding on," he said.

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