Food banks across the nation are reporting rising demand and declining donations, but local food banks report they are almost ready for the holidays thanks to the generosity of area residents.
After the holidays, however, the local food banks will face their annual drought.
"This is a banner year for November and December," said Deb Cox, of the Salvation Army. "At Christmas, everybody is really great. By the time March or April comes, our shelves are getting empty."
Don Hansberger, who organizes the food pantry for Norwalk Alliance Church, agreed. "Contributions definitely drop down as tax time comes around," he said. "The closer you get to April 15, the less money you see in your collections."
Mary Krafzinski, secretary for New London's Salvation Army, said her organization is just hoping this year's Red Kettle campaign will raise enough for the coming year. "Right now we're trying to stock up for Christmas," she said. "By the time we're finished with Christmas, our shelves are pretty empty."
An Associated Press story this week reported food banks across the country are facing more demand and fewer resources already and puts the blame on rising energy and health care costs. Food banks nationally have reported fewer donations from food manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.
Julie Chase-Morefield, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, said she does see more need, but area residents are filling the gap. "We are fortunate that we've been seeing more local donations," she said. "We've had a drop of almost 50 percent in food from the federal government. In October we had our largest distribution month ever an increase of 17 percent."
But she agreed that local food banks will be struggling to keep up with demand once the holidays are over. "As soon as you hit January and February, the food pantries struggle a lot," she said.
Second Harvest supplies food banks, pantries and agencies in Huron, Erie, Crawford and Lorain counties.
The Norwalk Salvation Army has about 16,000 cans of food on hand now thanks to food drives at Norwalk High, St. Paul High, EHOVE, Norwalk Middle School, Pleasant Street School and area churches and businesses. Cox said students from Trinity School also helped sort the canned goods and decorated for the annual Thanksgiving luncheon held today.
She said the Salvation Army expected about 150 people to enjoy the 15 turkeys prepared for the feast today.
The next major project will be Christmas baskets. Cox said they expect to give from 400 to 450 baskets this year. “We try to put at least three days worth of meals in each basket,” she said. “The fact is, kids are out of school so we want to make sure the kids are fed. Our biggest problem is getting the meats and things like that.”
Senior citizens who receive baskets are often as thankful for the personal visits to deliver the baskets as they are for the food the baskets contain, she said. Cox said fruit baskets donated by Fisher-Titus are a great help during the Christmas season.
After the holiday, the Salvation Army will continue to try to supply food for 100 to 110 families each month, Cox said. “The things we’re lacking now are staples — peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, tuna fish, cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup,” she said.
Cox said Giant Eagle donates bread and pastries on the day of expiration the Salvation Army tries to get them to clients for immediate use. She said Gardner’s SuperValue has also helped out with donations in the past.
Hansberger said the Alliance Church gives out food once each month. Last month 211 families lined up for food, an increase of 40. “We give them a bag which, hopefully, will feed them for a week,” he said. But when the holidays are over, Hansberger said, the struggle to keep up with requests gets tough.
Cox agreed the hard work for food banks is ahead. “Christmas is only one week,” Cox said. “We feed people 12 months out of the year.”