It was a hectic day at the Loaves & Fishes food pantry at Charlottes First Presbyterian Church Wednesday. Sadly, thats nothing new.
Most of us think of donating to the hungry around Thanksgiving or Christmas. But this is the worst time of year for food pantries. Kids are out of school, so they need two more meals a day from home. And donations to pantries drop sharply, as people focus more on spending bread on vacation than on donating bread to the hungry.
Loaves & Fishes is wrestling with record demand in Mecklenburg County. The number of people its serving has jumped 25 percent this year over last year, which itself was a record high. Half its customers are children.
The charity has given out all of its donated food. Now its shelves are filled with food it buys at the grocery store, to the tune of $20,000 to $40,000 a week. Even thats not enough to keep its 17 locations fully stocked.
The First Presbyterian site was fresh out of eggs and other items Wednesday afternoon when Ashley Patterson shopped. Patterson, a veteran who left the Army in 2007, was picking up food for a family of five. She and her boyfriend care for her 6-year-old, 18-month-old and 8-month old.
Patterson says she has been looking for work almost since her last child was born. Until she finds some, she cant afford groceries. She was referred to Loaves & Fishes by her church and by A Childs Place, a nonprofit that helps homeless children.
Patterson worked with a volunteer late Wednesday afternoon, picking out cans of green beans and applesauce, boxes of cornbread mix and cereal. Not everything was available. The line had been out the door young and old, black and white, mostly unemployed for much of the day and things were picked over.
Beverly Howard, the executive director of Loaves & Fishes, says the recession is as bad as ever for her clientele. We used to say we serve the working poor, she told the editorial board Wednesday. Now we say we serve the working poor and the wish-they-were-working-again poor.
Howards agency served 58,000 people in the first six months of this year. Usually food donations from the holidays and spring help carry the pantries through July and even August. With demand so high this year, though, all that food is gone.
There are scattered drives in the summer, but theyre not enough. The agency budgeted $700,000 to buy groceries this year; it now expects that figure to be around $900,000 a 28 percent overage. With the drought driving up food prices, it expects to spend close to $1 million next year, putting pressure on a budget that also has to pay for administrative costs like renting a warehouse and fueling delivery trucks. (They dont run on prayer, they run on diesel, Howard says).
With the sales tax holiday coming up this weekend, you might have a few extra bucks in your pocket. Why wait til Thanksgiving to remember the hungry?