Food pantries struggle to meet demand-WEB ONLY

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In a long, narrow room lined on both sides with metal and plywood shelving, a few dozen jars of peanut butter and cans of green beans dot the mostly vacant spaces in the Salvation Army food pantry.

“We are a little bit empty right now,” said Rodney Morin, director of the Anderson pantry.

Over the past year, feeding the hungry in Madison County has become a greater challenge because of an influx of people who are in need of assistance.

Food pantries in the area have served 30 percent to 40 percent more people this year, said Tim Kean, associate director of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. The food bank supplies more than 100 programs and agencies in eight counties, including Madison County.

“I know that many of those people visiting (food pantries) had jobs and recently lost them,” Kean said.

Rita Gross, a resident of Anderson who regularly visits the Park Place Church of God food pantry, said she and her family have had to make changes in their lives just to feed themselves.

“We have had to cut back on everything,” she explained. “If we need clothes, we go to places like Goodwill and don’t shop in fancier stores anymore. We try to economize; that’s all we can do.”

“I don’t get food stamps or anything like that,” said Robert Bohrer, another Anderson resident who visits the Park Place pantry. “Basically, I need groceries, and if it wasn’t for the pantries, God bless them, a lot of people wouldn’t be eating.”

People who work in food pantries say that a new type of client has come out of the recession. Middle-class people who have never gone hungry suddenly need the system to feed their families.

“We are seeing more middle-class clients than before,” Morin said. “Most of the time we had people in poverty as our main clients. Now, with the economy, whether it’s employment, taxes or fuel, it’s starting to make everybody struggle. We are here to talk with them and let them know that everything is OK – that everybody falls on hard times.”

The new clients are not used to relying on government or social-service help, so they often feel humbled or embarrassed by their situation, added Beverly Pierce, a coordinator of the food pantry at Park Place.

Because of increasing demand, the Salvation Army, like several other local food pantries, has had to cut back its offerings. Its pantry used to operate five days a week but now is down to three.

On average, Morin said, seven of the 30 families they help per day are new to the Salvation Army. Some days there are as many as 13 new clients.

As a result, the Salvation Army is trying to boost giving to its food pantry.

“We are letting the public know a little more about us needing the donations,” Morin said. “We are depending on donations and, unfortunately, much of the community was not aware of the fact that we have a food pantry.”

The food pantry at Park Place Church of God has also made adjustments to accommodate more demand.

From 2003 to 2008, the number of families that the Park Place food pantry served annually increased from 7,035 to 12,053, said Karen Scott, who works at the church and with the food-distribution program. The largest increase occurred between 2007 and 2008.

Pierce added that while the Park Place pantry has been able to stay open, it’s had to limit people to coming only once every two weeks.

Second Harvest has implemented a “tailgate program” in response to increasing demands for food. Once a month in each of the eight counties it serves, Second Harvest loads a truck with 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of food to distribute at a pre-announced place. The food bank publicizes the event and, with the help of volunteers, distributes the food directly from the truck, Kean said.

On the supply side, he noted, Second Harvest has continued to receive generous donations. In 2008, the food bank took in 5.3 million pounds of food, 78 percent of which was donated.

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