More people seeking Southeast Missouri food banks' help

Monday, June 20, 2011
Volunteers Chris Collier, Tim Becker and Samantha Margetta, from left, work to plant vegetables June 10 at a new garden off South Sprigg Street in Cape Girardeau that will be used to supplement the Catholic Social Ministries food pantry. (Kristin Eberts)

Unemployment and rising gas prices are forcing more people to seek first-time help from local food pantries, area organizations say.

Tina Rodgers, a case manager with the Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau, said her organization noticed a recent surge of families needing help.

"There's really been an increase in the past few months," Rodgers said. "I think a lot of it has to do with the heat and air conditioning. We went from cold to very hot weather in a short period of time, and it didn't really give people a break in their utility bills."

In April the Salvation Army food pantry provided 472 bags and 745 meals for people in need. Those numbers rose to 524 bags and 968 meals in May.

Donnie Shuck, president of Catholic Social Ministries in Cape Girardeau, said demand for his pantry's services has more than doubled in the past two years.

"People have been out of work, and when you have a lot of people out of work they will qualify for getting food," Shuck said. "We've had high unemployment for the last year and a half. I think it's going to be an ongoing problem because I don't believe unemployment will ever get back down to the low numbers we had before the recession."

When his pantry started operating several years ago, Shuck said, it served around 30 families per month. That has grown to 400 families, or roughly 1,100 people.

"We're seeing a lot of new families and new timers," said Kyle Schott, eastern regional director of Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri. "People are coming in and saying 'I've never done anything like this before,' or 'I've never had to ask for help.' You always have your chronically poor, but now we have people coming in and saying they need help because they've just been out of work for so long."

The Missouri Department of Agriculture has implemented programs to help area pantries deal with the influx of families, including the new Grow & Give campaign.

Grow & Give encourages local growers to donate excess produce from their farms or gardens to local food pantries. The campaign could help, but Karen Green, executive director of the Southeast Missouri Food Bank, said local food pantries depend on regular food donations, which traditionally taper off during the summer.

One of Rodger's clients, a 25-year-old mother of two who asked to remain anonymous, said the rise in gas prices put a strain on her family's budget and forced her to seek help from the Salvation Army.

"I just feel like, when gas prices went up, everything went up," she said. "I used to be one of those people that donated to the food pantries, but now I have to go to them for help.

Although she is benefiting from the Salvation Army's services, Rodger's client said she has had to get rid of her telephone line and cut her cable and Internet service in order to pay for utilities and basic needs.

Flooding and tornadoes are another strain on food banks, which redirected supplies to communities hardest hit by those disasters. As a result, Shuck said, area pantries are finding it harder to meet area needs.

"With everything that's happened, it's harder for us to come by food," Shuck said. "The food banks are so low right now. Especially when it come to vegetables. That's what we're in need of more than anything else. We can get meat, but we can't get the vegetables."

Recent shortages have prompted St. Mary's and Old St. Vincent's Church to plant a vegetable garden behind the building that houses the food pantry. The garden will supplement the pantry's food supply, but Schott said the garden won't solve the pantry's vegetable shortage and is more of a symbol of the growing need in the community.

Green said Missouri communities have "responded beautifully" to the disasters by donating, but the greatest need will be felt in months to come.

"I think what happens is from time to time there is an obvious cry for help and people respond," Green said. "But what most people don't understand is that help is most needed once that initial cry dies down and the disaster is no longer in the headlines."

For a list of area pantries, visit feedingmissouri.org. For more information on Grow & Give, visit mda.mo.gov.

ssemmler@semissourian.com

388-3648

Pertinent address

134 S. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO

701 Good Hope St., Cape Girardeau, MO

3920 Nash Road, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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