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Food pantry offers people a chance at a better holiday
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Even with help from the food pantries, both local and mobile, Thanksgiving is a challenging celebration for those who need the assistance to make it through the month.

“We will go to our family celebration, which is good. If we didn’t have them to go to, we would be eating a poor peoples Thanksgiving,” one young mother explained at the mobile food pantry on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. “It would be canned food, boxed food. Things we don’t really want to eat every day, much less on Thanksgiving.”

Which is not to say she isn’t thankful for the help. She is.

“We have food stamps,” the mother of three very young children explained. “They help us get through the month too. We just don’t make enough.”

Without the food aid from the pantries and the federally subsidized food stamp program, the young woman explained that she and the father of her children would not be able to feed their family adequately. Those children would know hunger every day without that help.

When she left the mobile food pantry, the better part of a week’s food went with her. While the specifics of what is given changes based on what the pantry receives, the young woman left with a cart of food: two meats (hot dogs), six cans of beans, five cans of chili or baked beans and a bag of candy. She also received a gallon-and-a-half of juice, two packages of cream cheese, two boxes of stuffing mix, seven small single serving chip bags, 5 loaves of bread or packages of rolls, two vegetables, a winter squash, a bag of onions, a bag of apples, two bags of potatoes and hand sanitizer to help with the cold and flu season.

The Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps) is now serving 46 million Americans, the highest in the program’s history, and food pantries countrywide are reporting an average increase of over 40-percent from a year ago.

However with corporate giving down and food prices rising, food pantries are stretched in their efforts to meet the need. Adding to the need are state governments looking for ways to make SNAP eligibility more stringent to control state program costs.

“We are doing really well on individual giving,” Brian Larson, an Outreach Specialist with Second Harvest said. “But, the food acquisition is being affected. There is less overproduction in the food industry as companies tighten up in response to the economy. Big companies like Wal-Mart were able to give more (quantity) in the past, but that overstock isn’t available now. And dollar-wise, their contributions just don’t go as far.”

Larson estimated that his program had seen local use increase between 10 and 20 percent this year.

“There are more new people that have never used it before,” Larson said of those accessing the assistance. “More young adults and the elderly, those with fixed incomes.”

The rising food prices mean certain items are becoming more difficult for pantries to afford in their purchasing efforts.

When asked what commodities were of greatest need, Gays Mills Food Pantry Coordinator Sue Fry immediately topped the list with proteins.

“Meat and peanut butter. We always seem to be in need of these,” Fry said. “But also things like cereal, soups, sauces and noodles.”

Churches and individuals are stepping in to fill the gap as best they can, giving more and not just in food. They are giving their time to serve their communities.

Pastor Kent Johnson of Gays Mills Luther Memorial Church makes a point of helping each month with the mobile pantry.

“I’m in town a limited amount of time each week,” Pastor Larson explained. “Being here helps me understand the needs of the community.”

Another volunteer spoke of the desire to help in the community.

“This was the only volunteer opportunity I knew of. I saw an article in the paper a couple of years ago,” the volunteer said. “So here I am. I help here (the mobile pantry) and at the Gays Mills Food Pantry every month. It feels good.”

One young volunteer, Kenny Spencer, explained that he and his sisters were there because school was out and this was something his mom did regularly.

“But I like this. I would definitely come back,” Spencer said smiling as he handed out bottles of hand sanitizer near the end of the line.

His sisters, working side by side handing out beans at the start of the line, seemed to be enjoying the experience also. They smiled broadly and laughed often, as they spoke to each other and those coming through the line.

For those who care to make donations to the food pantry, non-perishable items can be dropped off at the Crawford County Independent office at 320 Main Street in Gays Mills, if you cannot make it to the Gays Mills Food Pantry during its open hours. Donations can be dropped off directly at the pantry, located at 210 School Street, on the first Saturday of the month from 9 to 11 a.m. and on the first through third Wednesdays of the month from 2 to 4 p.m. For more information on the Gays Mills Food Pantry, contact Sue Fry at 608-485-0541.