Prien Lake Elementary's Karla Pineta puts the canned goods she and her classmates brought on the shelves at the Manna Food Pantry in April. (American Press)
Prien Lake Elementary's Chad Gray puts canned goods he and his classmates brought on the shelves at the Manna Food Pantry in April. (American Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, August 04, 2012 9:17 PM
Local food pantries are having to find new ways to gather enough food to feed the hungry.
Many area food banks rely on the organization Second Harvest for a large portion of their food, but Second Harvest is taking in less food, which in turn means less food for the pantries it supports.
Pantry workers and organizers said they are getting more of their food locally.
The Catholic Charities food pantry in Lake Charles has seen a “significant decrease” in food provided by Second Harvest and a $50 fee has been added on for each delivery, Hanh Vu, Associate Deputy Secretary of Catholic Charities, said.
“We’ve seen a decrease in food we receive and we’ve also seen an increase in clients,” Vu said. “There’s a direct correlation.”
That was a sentiment echoed by Lysa Hicks, secretary for Faith and Friends food bank.
“We’re getting more and more clients,” she said. “That’s where we’re seeing a difference.”
Vu said the organization relies on donations and grants to “help offset some of that.”
Debbie Carter, treasurer for Faith and Friend food pantry (former Ecumenical Social Service Alliance), said her organization is “purchasing a lot locally.”
She said it’s a situation in which contributions “have dropped so dramatically, we’ve been supplying our own food.
“We watch our deals and if we need a certain item we go to whatever store and get what we’ve got to get.”
Faith and Friends has been buoyed by the several churches that support it, Carter said.
In addition, the National Association of Letter Carriers “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive was of great assistance to local food banks, Carter and Vu said.
The donations from that drive were good enough to keep Faith and Friends going “three to four months,” Carter said.
Faith and Friends received 4,500 pounds of donated food from the drive, Hicks said.
While churches, charities, organizations and businesses have helped lessen the situation, food pantry organizations are in no way saying they don’t need donations.
Vu said that applied to “all” food pantries; not just his.
“Please be generous,” he said. “Every agency needs support.”
Hicks issued a “plea to people to support pantries in their area.”
The organization’s output is lower in part because the amount of food it gets from the government has been lowered, said Leslie Doles, communications director for Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana, which services Southwest Louisiana.
Second Harvest’s intake from the USDA’s The Emergency Food Assistance Program is half what it was a year ago, Doles said.
She said that last year USDA commodities made up 26 percent of all the food Second Harvest distributed; this year that’s down to 17 percent.
“We’re all seeing this every day at a national level and at a local level, too,” Doles said.
Second Harvest’s intake from the USDA program is down almost 4 million pounds, Terri Kaupp, communication specialist, said.
“We’re finding access to less and less food and seeing more people coming in,” Doles said.
Doles said that a shift has occurred in what is easy to obtain — Second Harvest doesn’t receive as much non-perishable food as it once did, for a variety of reasons. Those could be that manufacturers are putting in more quality control, which result in less damaged canned goods (which would be donated to food banks) or instances such as a recent spike in the price of peanut butter which left Second Harvest without 500,000 jars of the food staple.
“You can’t easily replace half a million jars of peanut butter,” Doles said. “It’s been a challenge to try to replace it with other food sources.”
In turn, Second Harvest has opened a kitchen in which it can better ensure that meat, fruit and vegetables are either quickly distributed or re-purposed for later use, Doles said.
“If you walk through our warehouse, you will see that the number of non-perishable items has shrunk,” Doles said.
Doles said food banks are also seeing more people from a new category — people who aren’t qualified for government assistance but can’t afford food.
“These are people we haven’t seen at food pantries before,” Doles said.