Food pantries are in dire straits this summer. Programs that feed the poor are seeing rising demand, less government help and higher prices for food. WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
An emergency food pantry in Springfield Massachusetts had to close temporarily for one day last week after its shelves went bare.
Candace Larger, the emergency food program director with the non-profit agency, Open Pantry says generous donations from the community helped to re-stock. The food pantry received 15 thousand pounds of donated food in 4 days. That’s about a two week supply.
The need increases in the summer in part because children out of school don’t have free or reduced price meals. 80% of the public school children in Springfield qualify for a government subsidized food program. Also, Larger says demand is being driven by persistently high unemployment.
Open Pantry provided food to 37,500 people last year, an increase of about 5, 000 from the year before, according to Larger.
Andrew Morehouse, the executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts says the emergency food network is caught in a perfect storm of rising or steady demand, less government help, and food prices at least 8% higher than last year.
Morehouse said food shipments from the USDA are down 50% since funding from the Federal Economic Recovery Act ended last fall.
Too make up for the short falls in donated food, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is now giving cash to some of its 300 pantries and soup kitchens in the four county region.
Morehouse said more than 110 thousand people have annually sought emergency food in western Massachusetts, a number that’s been constant since the depths of the Great Recession.
Anti poverty activists worry the demands will strain the emergency food network even more if Congress cuts SNAP benefits in the pending farm bill.