Economic stress taking a bite out of food bank

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Numbers near double, but local generosity keeps pace with need

A nationwide economic crunch is beginning to take a toll on local food banks.

"We have people coming in to ask for food who have never had to do that before. They may be uncomfortable about it at first, and they tell us they don't like to have to ask for help," says a worker at the Upper Des Moines Opportunity Food Pantry in Storm Lake.

"They are saying that their gasoline costs more, their groceries cost more, their utilities cost more - but the local jobs - they aren't paying more," said the worker, who asked not to be identified.

Luckily, some major donations have come in lately, and some Buena Vista University students have added volunteer labor to the staff at UDMO.

"We are very lucky to live in the community that we do. Without the genersosity we see from the people who live in every community in this county, we couldn't be meeting this need right now," the employee said.

The food program has few rigid regulations, so is able to help some people who may be employed, but face dire special circumstances. Yet charity workers are worried that things could get worse before they get better.

"There are a whole lot of people affected by the economy, and the dollars are no longer going to stretch as far as they used to," the UDMO worker said. Some are opting to look for second or third jobs.

The stats at the food pantry prove the point.

In April of 2007, 111 families depended on the food charity to get by, representing 256 local people.

This April, the need had risen to 194 families and 495 individuals - nearly doubling.

The agency has not been approved for outside agency funding for the coming fiscal year from the City of Storm Lake.

UDMO is trying to take the sting out of charity for those hit hard by rising cost of living.

"It is hard for people to ask for food for the first time, but after we visit with them, they relax. All we can do is reassure them that everyone goes through some rough times sometime," the worker said. "A little understanding seems to go a long way."

There are a few things that are always needed, such as canned protein foods like tuna and Spam, boxed meals like Hamburger Helper, laundry soap, toiletries, household paper products, and always diapers. Donations are always welcomed at the UDMO office in Storm Lake.

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