JOPLIN, Mo. —
Kerri Downey left Crosslines on Friday with three plastic grocery bags of crackers, bread and canned goods.
It was the first time in recent memory that she has sought assistance with food from the Joplin agency, she said.
“We moved into a new place and (are) in between paychecks,” she said. “The economy is what got us.”
Staff at local food pantries have said they’ve seen an increase this summer in the number of people needing their services. While demand for food assistance is on the rise, the supply hasn’t necessarily been keeping up; many of the agencies have recently put out calls asking for donations.
Konrad Fehrenbach, who manages the food pantry at Joplin Crosslines, said that in the two years he has worked there, the number of people seeking food assistance from the organization has doubled, according to his estimates. Food donations haven’t always matched that increase and, in some cases, have actually declined from year to year, he said.
The shelves inside the pantry speak to the need — many of them are empty. A note taped above Fehrenbach’s desk reads: “Oh no — July commodities!!! It’s gonna get ugly!” Those government-donated items for the month of July, which included several shelves’ worth of canned peaches, were more than half gone as of Friday, Fehrenbach said.
Summer is normally a busy time for the food pantry of the Wesley House in Pittsburg, Kan., executive director Ellie Foster said. A large part of that is parents seeking extra food for children who normally eat breakfast and lunch at school during the academic year, she said.
But Foster said this summer has been particularly busy, even by those standards.
“Normally we kind of expected our shelves will be pretty bare by the end of July or the middle of August, but we hit that point at the end of June,” she said. “I was absolutely blown away when I walked into the food pantry and the shelves were just unbelievably bare. That kind of put us into a tailspin.”
Foster said 2012 has been a record-setting year in terms of the numbers of families seeking assistance from the Wesley House. The organization has served 2,934 families this year through the end of June, up from 2,379 families in the same time period last year, she said. Of those families, 206 were new to the Wesley House this year, up from 145 new families last year, she said.
“We’re continuing to see a lot more new families than we have in previous years, families that have never needed assistance before,” she said. “I think the bad economy has held on for so long that if families had anything in reserve, it’s gone.”
Several organizations depend each year on an allocation from the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, offered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to help stock their shelves. But as Congress chips away at the federal budget, the amount of money available locally from FEMA has dwindled.
“We’re having to purchase a lot more food out of our budget” because supplemental funding is less available, said Belle Lown, director of Crosslines of Carthage. “If the community steps up and does what they can, they can help alleviate some of that pressure on the food pantries to have to purchase some of the food out of their operating budget.”
Lown said Crosslines, which serves between 180 and 200 Carthage families per month on average, also experiences an increase in clients during the summer.
“Each day, we’re seeing people who haven’t been here for months,” she said.
The food pantry has a particular need for pastas, meats, staples such as flour, sugar, dry beans, rice and fruit, she said.
Mary Finney, of Crosslines in Neosho, said the food pantry she manages is in need of all types of donations, particularly canned and boxed foods, cereal and peanut butter.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t have enough to go around,” said Finney, whose clientele is primarily elderly residents. “I wish I could say that I do, but I don’t. We need food. We need groceries.”
Crosslines of Joplin: 131 S. High Ave., 417-782-8384.
Crosslines of Carthage: 600 E. Sixth St., 417-358-1577.
Crosslines of Neosho: 308 E. Spring St., 417-451-0157.
Wesley House of Pittsburg: 411 E. 12th St., 620-232-3760.