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Growing need at area food banks put strain on supplies
By TRACEY COMPTON
Renton area food banks report full shelves but growing need this holiday season for food.
Many local charities and food banks filled Thanksgiving baskets and are currently working on Christmas food baskets for the holiday season.
The Renton Reporter checked in with local food banks to see how supplies are stocking up. Of the local food banks contacted, none reported drastic dips in resources but expressed concern about future demands because of the economy and government assistance programs.
St. Vincent de Paul at St. Anthony
The St. Vincent de Paul food bank at St. Anthony Catholic Parish reported a 40 percent increase in requests for food in the last three months. The food bank does not do a special drive for Thanksgiving but prepares about 100 Christmas baskets. St. Anthony’s shelves are full, but staff has noticed an increase in need.
“In November we were as bare as I have ever experienced in my 12 years at the food bank,” wrote Lani Cavit in a email. She is food bank manager at St. Anthony.
“In November, we fed 364 people,” she said.
Most of the increase in requests came in September and October. The food bank has just been supported by St. Anthony’s students, staff and parishioners up until now. Although shelves are fine currently, Cavit questions whether the church will be able to keep up with the growing need for food in the future.
“I am very concerned about the food supply after December,” she said. “I know that the 40 percent increase will not go away.”
With enough volunteers now, Cavit said any help the community wants to give with hosting food drives is greatly appreciated.
Emergency Feeding Program
At the Emergency Feeding Program, which is temporarily located in Renton, seasonal dips in resources aren’t that common. The program’s peak months are between February and April, when it averages 2,000 deliveries per month. Staff does experience occasional food shortages on specific items they use in multiple bags of their 15 different versions of food packs.
“Because our program works differently than the traditional food-bank model, we tend not to experience the same seasonal dips in resources,” said Ron Martin-Dent.
He is the outreach coordinator for the program.
The program’s numbers actually drop slightly in December then pick back up after the holidays. Why numbers drop off and return isn’t known for certain. Martin-Dent speculates that the increased number of food drives might have a temporary impact on hunger in communities, decreasing the need for an emergency food bag. Another possibility, he said, is a drop because of the number of schools they distribute through are closed during the holiday season.
Program staff echoes sentiments that the need for emergency food bags is growing.
“The expiration of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits that went into effect last month has already led to an increase in the number of clients we serve,” Martin-Dent said. “We have been actively encouraging our supporters and the communities we serve to contact their members of Congress to prevent additional cuts to SNAP.”
Miracles Food Bank and Outreach
Skyway’s Miracles Food Bank and Outreach center has plenty of food, but needs workers. After Thanksgiving, staff did not report a lack of food on the center’s shelves.
“I’m fine; our food bank is run by God and we have no lack whatsoever,” said Cheryl Johnson, Miracles’ executive director. “We don’t have room to receive (food).”
Johnson supplies turkeys for Miracles’ Thanksgiving food drive out of her own pocket. Miracles has been in operation for 10 years. Run with a few volunteers, Johnson said, she just needs resources to hire more staff.
Renton Salvation Army
Like Miracles, the Renton Salvation Army typically has a “very strong” food supply too this time of year, according to Capt. Chris Aird.
It isn’t until after the first of the year that donations go way down, he said via email.
This Thanksgiving their food bank helped 546 families.
“The numbers show that we have helped more families this year than last year,” Aird said. “From this, I would say that the need is growing. The answer to why is a little harder to explain because there is no one real reason. Our economy, low- wage jobs, medical needs, grocery prices increasing and food stamps being cut, would be a few of the reasons.”
Next year he has plans to do some remodeling in the lobby of the food bank to accommodate those waiting to get assistance.