55 PLUS - Need grows, demand high at area food banks

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Winter, the recent holidays and current economic conditions are increasing the demand on local food banks.

This fall, donations were steady but the need is increasing according to Blue Mountain Action Council food bank manager Gail McGhee. "We haven't had huge food drives but it's been pretty steady. The amount of food is OK right now for the huge amount of need. But the need keeps growing." McGhee estimates 100 to 150 new clients monthly. "It's just overwhelming, trying to keep enough food available. It's staggering how many people are out of their own homes and living with family and friends."

McGhee said another new element are many more working families who aren't able to make ends meet.

For someone who needs food, McGhee said the first step is to call Helpline. Helpline issues the client a card for a month that allows them to get food three times, ten days apart. "It used to be that every time they needed to go to the food bank, they had to go to Helpline first." The need is simply too great right now. The BMAC facility serves as a warehouse and distribution center for the three food pantries in the local area. Helpline is an emergency resource for food if the pantries are closed.

The fast-paced operation runs on donations and the dedication of volunteers. McGhee said they have enough volunteers at this time. "We've got four folks from RSVP and they are just fantastic. Every time I call them, they come right in," she said.

Although they have a good variety of food right now she said, "Proteins are always needed. And canned meals, for children. When the parents are working, the kids can just open a can and have something to eat."

According to McGhee, the months of real need are usually February and March. "Those are difficult," she said. "It's still cold out." Heating bills are high and donations tend to fall off after the holidays are over. But the need is definitely still there.

Dan Willms, Helpline's executive director, agreed that high heating bills add to the problem. "They're just doing what they can to keep warm," he said.

He encouraged landlords to get older homes insulated. Heating bills add to the difficulties some renters face. At Helpline Willms has seen the level of need in the local area increase. "Our eviction-prevention assistance is way up. People aren't doing a lot of moving, they're just trying to hold on to what they've got. The requests for assistance are increasing. The food banks are static, it's not going down by any means."

He said he's seeing more desperation, with people trying to make it through to the end of the month and not being able to stretch that far. "This year we've had the early snow, our requests right now are way up. We're trying to focus on where there are children," he explained. The organization has worked on a blanket drive and a push to collect adult coats. "It's a struggle for heating assistance," he said.

Winter offers its own challenges, with employment fluctuations, cold weather and the extra pressure of the holidays all combined.

For information or to donate:

Blue Mountain Action Council, 509-529-4980

Helpline, 509-529-3377

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at karleneponti@wwub.com.

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