Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hunger: Needs up; funding down

Last night at a church business meeting Jim Brown reported on the community food pantry called Loaves and Fishes that is housed in our facilities. Numerous local churches, business, and community organizations assist in this effort to help those at risk for hunger in our area who are . Lately we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of folks requesting food.

In May we assisted a record 417 households by giving them 1,806 bags of groceries. In September we helped 781 households with 3,141 bags of groceries. In case you're wondering, the numbers were up in each intervening month too: 518 households in June, 575 in July, and 630 in August.

Why the sharp increase? It is not that Loaves and Fishes is a new ministry that folks are just finding out about--we've been doing this for about 10 years. Here in Brunswick County, North Carolina our economy in recent years has been heavily dependent on construction and real estate and both are down--way down. Last night a real estate broker and deacon in the church said of the local economy, "These are hard times."

So contractors and related businesses have laid people off or cut back on hours and many workers are feeling it and the lines get longer at local food pantries. Complicating matters in the case of Loaves and Fishes is that one of our important funding partners experienced a funding shortfall and was forced to cut back on grants to our food pantry and many other hunger relief ministries they assist. It is never a good time for any ministry to get the news that it will be receiving less money, but with Loaves and Fishes seeing record numbers of people requesting food every month lately it is a particularly bad time for us to get such news.

With our local economic downturn many local supporters are not in a position to dig a little deeper to make up for the grant reduction and to respond to the increased hunger needs in this community. Our Loaves and Fishes reserves are critically low. We are staring at the real possibility of turning away large numbers of needy people. We've never had to do that before.

We have made the congregation aware of the situation and we have asked that folks give more attention to bringing nonperishable food items and place them in a container in the church set aside for that purpose. Of course we have made an appeal to members to make designated offerings to Loaves and Fishes.

Today is distribution day for the food pantry. We'll have a bunch of volunteers from several churches running a well-oiled hunger relief machine--it is a sight to behold. Jim Brown, a Loaves and Fishes leader, is concerned. How many hungry people will show up today? Will we have enough food for them? What about next month?

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