Charities struggling to keep up with growing need

Indiana charities say they're giving out record amounts of food and are struggling to keep up with demand this year as the economy continues to sputter despite a dip in unemployment.

Many say they're bracing for a bigger increase in need as thousands of Hoosiers face losing unemployment benefits this month.

Mike Miller, chief operating officer for Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, said the current economic downturn is "like nothing we have seen in our 30-year history."

Officials say 87 percent of food pantries are seeing an increase in clients as more than 90,000 people in central Indiana alone have fallen into poverty this year.

LaTheda Noonan, manager at the Interchurch Food Pantry in Franklin, said the charity fed more than 3,100 people in October, a 14 percent increase over last year. People who once donated to the food pantry are now among those seeking help, she said. Donations have dropped 50 percent from last year.

Officials at the Midwest Food Bank say they expect to collect an additional 3.5 million pounds of food this year over last year, but it won't be enough to help the 60,000 to 70,000 people served at its Indianapolis-area agencies.

The food bank serves about 220 organizations. It has 50 more on its waiting list, and others are starting to apply.

"The face of the needy is changing in America," said John Whitaker, executive director of operations at the pantry. "It used to be the transient on your street. Now it's your neighbor."

The need comes even as a national report showed charitable giving was up this year.

The survey by the National Research Collaborative showed that 36 percent of charities reported an increase in donations in the first nine months of this year, compared with 23 percent in the same period last year.

"It's pretty pitiful to say when 36 percent say giving is up, that it's a good year," said Melissa Brown, associate director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, which was a partner in the survey.

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