By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF | Published November 27, 2008
Food banks around North Georgia are in dire need of food as they serve an increasing number of people needing help. With families facing the worst economic crisis of their lifetime, many are reaching out to volunteer organizations, parishes and local businesses to assist them this holiday season. According to Ruth Alexander, administrator to the poor at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, “We’re in a crunch.”
“People have nowhere to go, and they’re hungry,” she said, adding that their usual sources for food have dried up. Other food banks in nearby Covington and Rockdale County have closed, she added, because “their pantries were bare.”
The monastery food bank purchases its food from the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which supplies some 800 partner agencies across 38 counties. The last time they went to the ACFB, Alexander said, they couldn’t get the 40-100 cases of food they typically need. “There’s no food. We couldn’t get any rice at all,” she said. “We needed 40 cases.”
To alleviate the problem, Alexander is going to membership warehouses like Sam’s Club to purchase the food. And to do that, the food bank is dipping into emergency funds.
Alongside Trappist Father Anthony Delisi, Alexander has run the monastery food bank for the past 21 years. She said the food bank there, which is open every Tuesday, feeds about 500 children and adults each month, providing canned goods, fresh vegetables, and other foods. The food bank also gets some goods to supplement its inventory from Publix supermarkets.
“But they can’t feed everyone.”
Alexander has become familiar with the faces of the families who come there.
“These people aren’t strangers, they are friends now.”
Alexander is also seeing new faces, though, with families coming from counties outside their 50-mile radius—some traveling from Butts, Jasper and Morgan counties.
“The further out you go,” she said, “there aren’t any food banks.”
The St. Vincent de Paul Society in Atlanta, with its 33 food banks throughout the archdiocese, has also seen firsthand the growing need of low-income families.
Jim Verrecchia, who works for the Society in Atlanta, said that the organization has seen an approximate 180 percent increase in clients from September of last year to September this year.
“The need this year is tremendous,” he said, commenting on how the economy is likely to play a large role in the upcoming holiday season.
St. Vincent de Paul is relying more heavily on the assistance of parishes and businesses in Atlanta to run food drives in hopes of bringing in food.
Across the country it’s the same story. At People of Progress, a food bank and emergency assistance charity in Redding, Calif., executive director Melinda Brown said that she’s seeing “more and more new people, and a lot of working people, which is new.”
The working people are getting food from the charity to make their paychecks stretch to the end of the month, she said. “We’re seeing people who have never asked for help before.”
A new report from the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that in 2007 13 million households experienced “food insecurity,” meaning their access to adequate food was limited by a lack of money and other resources. That was 11.1 percent of all U.S. households.
About one-third of food-insecure households (4.7 million, or 4.1 percent of all U.S. households) had very low food security, that is, the food intake of some household members was reduced and their normal eating patterns disrupted during 2007.
In the central Oregon city of Bend, “requests have increased tremendously,” said Christine King, who directs social services for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul there. Food pantry shelves are now depleted early each week.
The most frightening statistic, King said, is the number receiving aid for the first time in October—about triple what was normal just a year ago.
King said more families are being forced to apply for food stamps and now that food prices have risen, the food budget runs out earlier in the month. This winter, with high heating costs, could put more families over the edge, she added.
“The supply and demand are not meeting,” said Veronica Kennedy of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Portland, adding that the charity’s central emergency services office is “inundated with big lines.”
Melaney Swenson, director of Catholic Charities of Idaho’s regional office in Boise, said what’s scary about the current economic downturn isn’t the number of homeowners coming in looking for mortgage help. It isn’t the increase in the number of people who have lost good-paying jobs and need counseling for the first time. What’s scariest is that the worst is yet to come.
“I’ve never seen anything on this kind of scale before,” she said Nov. 11.
Only the agency response to Hurricane Katrina could begin to compare with the impact of the country’s current economic crisis, she said. The difference between the demand for aid then and now is that people were able to donate generously to rebuild Gulf coast communities. Today, people just don’t have the money to give, Swenson said.
Back in Georgia, Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain, working hand-in-hand with St. Vincent de Paul, recently delivered 250 boxes of Thanksgiving food to families in metro Atlanta, and plans to deliver 250 boxes of food more during the Christmas holidays.
Gini Eagan, an employee of the parish, commented that many families might be facing financial troubles for the first time this year, which may account for the increased number of families in need. But as the people rally around their community, they hope to help as many as they can.
Corpus Christi also has a Giving Tree, in which names and needs of families, provided by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, are hung on a Christmas tree in the church so parishioners can support individuals and families by purchasing gifts to share for Christmas.
Dedicated to the people coming to the monastery food bank for help, Alexander remains passionate about her work and is just trying to take it one week at a time.
“With 80-some-year-old people standing in line with tears in their eyes,” she said, “I just can’t tell them no.”
To donate to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, visit www.acfb.org. To donate to the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Atlanta, visit www.svdpatl.org. To donate to the food bank at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, send a check marked Food Bank to Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery, 2625 Highway 212, SW, Conyers, GA 30094-4044.