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Food pantries struggle to keep up with demand

November 02, 2011
BERLIN –On Friday afternoon a steady flow of humble, hungry people filtered into St. Vincent DePaul Society's small food pantry. The pickings were thin – and the cold weather that settled over the region was a reminder that staying warm would add another layer of worry on these people.

Food pantries across the North Country are facing food shortages and a steady increase in demand. More people and less food mean careful tracking. Judy Rheaume, the cheerful and efficient coordinator of the pantry, shuffles through a box of file cards each with a recipient's name. She needs to spread the food out and that means limiting the number of times people can come.

Each recipient gets a grocery bag of non-perishable food and then a choice of a few specialty items – including peanut butter, ketchup and canned vegetables -- off a small shelf. Rheaume said she's seen "a big increase, more families." They serve 130 families a week and each week brings around five new families. These people, she explained are "working but aren't making ends meet."

The jump in food prices is also causing problems. Rheaume said not long ago she'd buy a box of 100 tea bags for $1, now $1.50 – 50 percent more. St. Vincent DePaul Society's food pantry is a ministry of the local clergy association. They received no government funds, she said, we're "dependent on volunteers."

On the other side of Berlin -- at the Salvation Army pantry, Lt. Erin Smullen, an ordained minister, is happy to be open. They were closed for two weeks this year because they had no food. She's seeing a lot of "first timers… some even donated in the past and now are seeking assistances themselves."

They are, Smulle said, "working poor or recently laid off" from their jobs. She is seeing a consistent increase in people seeking assistance. They serve around 115 people a week and have 10-15 new people each week. Smullen said she needs donations of dry milk, personal care items, peanut butter and dinner kits.

At the Salvation Army food pantry, there was a young couple, who asked that their names not be printed in the newspaper, and their 6-month-old son. Both worked in the food service industry before being laid-off. The man's wage earnings fell $200 short of qualifying for unemployment, so he's without any support.

After having their baby, the woman couldn't immediately return to work because of a complicated cesarean birth, so she too lost her job. She was further surprised to learn that she couldn't get unemployment compensation because she was physically unable to work. Then, they turned to state welfare, only to be advised that TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) had been cut and has focused their services to single parents. She was told that she and her son would be financially better off if the family split up. They rely on places like the Salvation Army for food and moral support. "We thought we'd be doing well," the man said, "we had a whole plan and a budget, but then we got laid off."

In Lancaster, Myra Emerson who runs a food pantry, the Lancaster Community Cupboard, and a soup kitchen, called the Kitchen Table. Both are based out of the United Methodist Church on Main Street. She's seen a big increase in both, but especially the soup kitchen. "It's not easy for people to come," she said, but finally hunger overcomes pride.

Gorham's Wall mart use to send a truck over with food, but, she said, "they need it in Berlin."

(Financial donations or non-perishable food items can be brought to: St. Vincent DePaul Society's, 153 Grafton Street Berlin; Salvation Army, 15 Cole Street. Berlin; and Lancaster Community Cupboard 135 Main Street, Lancaster, NH)

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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