Krista Corner Havre Daily News email@example.com
Fuel and food prices are soaring while wages stay the same, causing families and businesses to reevaluate budget items previously considered essential. Across the nation anti-hunger organizations are beginning to experience the fall out. America's Second Harvest the nation's Food Bank Network cited rising fuel and food costs as a major contributor for the increase in demand and decrease in supply at the nation's food banks and soup kitchens, in a press release Monday. "As the cost of food and fuel skyrockets and the April 18 deadline for the current Farm Bill extension nears, millions of hungry Americans are turning to the nation's food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries for help and finding shockingly low levels of inventory," the release said. The news spurred the Havre Daily to take a look at how local organizations are holding up against the national trend. Havre Food Bank Director Penny Velk said while she cannot compare last year's numbers with this year's she didn't take over as director until August 2007 the situation at the Food Bank is dire. "Right now our pantry is pretty empty," she said. "There's more demand and less (donations) coming in. Prices have gone up and even people that have two incomes are having difficulty feeding their families. It isn't just those that don't work." Velk said the need is growing, and with the impending loss of a major contributor to the Food Bank, when Albertsons closes, she can only hope she will be able to feed all of Havre's hungry people. "You'd be amazed at the need," she said. "With Albertsons closing I haven't had an opportunity to speak with the owners of IGA to see if they're going to step up and provide what Albertsons did." Velk said as the sole recipient in Albertsons Grocery Rescue program the local food bank received large amounts of food on a regular basis. "With IGA, we share with the Give Away House (on the north side of Havre) and the Soup Kitchen (located downtown)," Velk said. "How are we going to reach the most people and have the most impact? We're all going to have to work cooperatively to reconcile or solve the problem." Over the last three months, the food bank has been helping an average of 120 to 130 hungry families per month, Velk said. "That's about 400 people that we are giving food and food boxes to." Part of the reason the food bank pantries may be so empty is because many people only think to have food drives in the fall, Velk said. The greatest need for food is actually during the summer, she added, when parents are feeding kids breakfast and lunch, which schools provide for lower-income families during the school year. Because of that need, Velk said she hopes the town's sole spring food drive will deliver enough food to last until November when the Everybody Loves Firefighters drive takes place. "Most of our food drives are in the fall because everyone's getting in the swing of school and the holidays, but our largest months (for demand) are in June and July," Velk said. "Our pantry gets low and our demand is high. The (postal) food drive is May 10, so hopefully we'll get enough food to last until November." Though the food bank may have trouble meeting needs, the Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen tells a different story, for now. "So far it hasn't impacted us real bad," said Barbara Herndon, kitchen coordinator. However, she added that donations of canned goods and financial support are down. "We had a back log (of donations) from Christmas so it hasn't hit us hard yet," she said. "We haven't gotten meat or anything for quite some time, but we just do with what we've got. As far as canned goods and everyday products, those aren't coming in like they used to and neither are the finances." Though donations are down, the soup kitchen hasn't seen an increase in traffic, at least not yet. "We'll probably see more this summer as the kids are out of school," Herndon said. "Right now, our numbers have gone down as compared to this time last year." America's Second Harvest reported, "The Farm Bill stuck in Congressional debate for several months, would bring much needed relief to food banks and low-income Americans through increased funding and improvements in federal nutrition programs, including the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Food Stamp Program. Food banks around the country report an estimated 20 percent more people are visiting soup kitchens and food pantries for help this year, compared to last." Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive officer of America's Second Harvest, added, "Hungry Americans cannot wait any longer. We are seeing absolutely tragic increases nationwide in the number of men, women and children in need of emergency food assistance, many for the first time ever. Meanwhile, more than 1.3 million more people are enrolled in food stamps compared to the year prior." To donate food items to feed local families, offer financial support or volunteer, contact Penny Velk at the Havre Food Bank at 265-2007 or Director Howard Herndon at the Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen at 265-1629.