Seasonal food donations have dipped 30 percent at Mecklenburg Countys food pantries, prompting concerns that Loaves & Fishes will have to spend an extra $7,000 a week filling winter food needs for thousands of area families.
December is among the charitys busiest months, with as many as 12,000 people expected to visit the countys network of 19 food pantries during the next few weeks.
Beverly Howard, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, said the agency is also experiencing a 14 percent dip in cash donations, adding to the challenges. That money is used to buy food when donations run short.
She said food donations dropped because the annual Thanksgiving food drive at local schools brought in 59,942 pounds of food, compared with 85,597 last year. One hundred public and private schools participated.
Additional corporate and congregational food drives like the one staged Wednesday by Piedmont Natural Gas could help ease the need, experts say. But Loaves & Fishes officials expect theyll have to buy necessities with donated money and distribute it to pantries.
I think the economy is still handicapping donors, said Howard. Another thing affecting us is Superstorm Sandy. People reached deep into their pockets to help those folks and rightly so. But any time you have a national disaster, that takes support from local initiatives.
Loaves & Fishes predicts it will distribute food directly to 125,000 people this year, which is an increase of about 13 percent over the previous year. On the upside, Howard noted the increase in need has slowed in recent months.
A recent survey by the agency revealed that 48 percent of the agencys clients are children. The majority of their parents are not employed, and 43 percent had been laid off in the last six months.
Among the biggest needs right now are canned meats, canned juices and diapers, Howard said.
Second Harvest Food Bank, a regional food bank that gathers food for several hundred hunger fighting agencies, distributes food to pantries in the Charlotte region. It says it also has a need for pantry staples, including canned fruits and vegetables, soup, peanut butter, cereal and pasta.