Feeding growing needs

Concord native Furla Jones was among the 300-plus people who took advantage of Second Harvest Food Bank's and Cooperative Christian Ministry's mobile food pantry earlier this month.

Up to 15,000 pounds of food is distributed to hundreds of local families through these mobile food pantries and often, the line stretches for a block or more.

Lynn Swisshelm, director of development for CCM, said individuals' reasons for coming to pantries range from dealing with long-term unemployment, having a disability or medical issues or supplementing food stamps

"We are seeing record numbers of people in our pantries, and the need for food is great," said Swisshelm. "By August, even our main pantry looks bare."

CCM has participated in mobile food pantries for more than 10 years, but client numbers have risen significantly in recent years.

Several area churches also partner with CCM to provide satellite food pantries. About 350 people were served at the Aug. 4 mobile food pantry at Forest Hill United Methodist Church in Concord.

Jones, 68, said the recent mobile pantry will help offset costs related to treating her rheumatoid arthritis. She also picked up food for her 76-year-old homebound neighbor.

"It's just such a great blessing," she said. "It really helps."

CCM, which turns 30 on Aug. 19, also has begun its food donation challenge. The food drive's goal is to have residents donate 30,000 pounds of food this month.

Because about two-thirds of students in Cabarrus receive free or reduced meals, Swisshelm said they can really be affected during summer.

"This can greatly increase the amount a family needs to spend on food," she said.

"At the same time, utilities are higher and a stretched budget can easily reach its limit. From there, choices have to be made, and we want to be sure children and their families in poverty have the basic need of food fulfilled."

During the summer, food donations are slow because schools donate a significant amount of food to CCM, said Swisshelm. Summer vacations also affect the amount of food donations.

Barry Porter, food service coordinator for CCM, said CCM received more than one million pounds of food to be distributed in fiscal 2010-11. During that time, CCM's nine food pantries distributed food to 12,501 households, an increase of 9.2 percent, and 37,305 individuals, an increase of 13.8 percent from the previous fiscal year.

From January to June, Porter said there was an 18 percent increase in families in need compared to that time last year.

"It's not getting any better," said Porter. "We continue to see more and more people."