Caldwell residents making run on food banks

Apr. 01, 2013 @ 06:03 PM

Hunger isn’t a new problem in Caldwell County – but more than ever in recent months, area food banks are packed.

The influx in people needing services can be attributed to a variety of causes, the executive directors of several local services said.

Due to a new case-management system, some recipients of food stamps (formally known as food and nutrition services) have received their benefits late. And donations to food banks are dropping.

Storehouse Daily Bread, a food pantry run by Crossroads Church in Lenoir, has seen an increase of close to 30 percent the past two months in the number of people it serves, executive director Cecelia Bowman said.

The food pantry is now serving more than 8,000 people per month.

“It’s just been really overwhelming,” Bowman said.

At the food bank run by Yokefellow of Caldwell County, numbers have been climbing for several years – with a particular spike in recent months, executive director Sharon Osbourne said.

Yokefellow’s roster of clients doubled from 10,769 in 2011 to 20,803 in 2012.

“Our numbers have been climbing on a regular basis anyway, but we are having significant issues keeping ample amounts of food,” she said. “Yokefellow’s food pantry assistance is a menu-based food bag, with an assortment of nutritious items. We prepare food assistance based on a menu. And we’re having a hard time.”

Typically Yokefellow is able to provide six to seven meals per week, but that has dropped to five a week in the last two weeks, Osbourne said.

At South Caldwell Christian Ministries, the number of people served nearly doubled from February to March, though numbers in January were even higher. Since Jan. 1,453 people have visited the food bank for the first time, director Deborah Thomas said.

Even smaller services that aren’t seeing large increases are holding steady at high numbers.

The Lenoir Soup Kitchen generally serves 90 to100 plates per day, and that will likely go up to about 130 during the summer, executive director Angel Moretz said.

“That’s busy for us,” said Moretz, who said she’s also seeing more new faces than usual at the soup kitchen.

The new online case-management system being implemented by the N.C. Department of Social Services may be a factor.

As Caldwell County DSS transitions to the new system, benefits have fallen behind – and some recipients who are up for recertification will wait up to three weeks longer than usual for their monthly food and nutrition benefits, said Will Wakefield, the adult and family support services program administrator for Caldwell DSS.

It’s not likely anyone will see a delay more than once, he said. Most recipients are only up for recertification every six months. And once a recipient is entered in the new system, approval is automated.

So, while DSS still expects delays in April, anyone who has already experienced a delay shouldn’t have a problem this month.

Still, a one-time delay can be serious in an area with hunger issues as deep and persistent as Caldwell’s.

Feeding America, a national hunder-relief charity, reports that 18.7 percent of county residents overall are food-insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from; 30.1 percent of county children are food-insecure.

The national averages are lower, with 16.1 percent of citizens overall and 21.6 percent of children qualifying as food-insecure. In North Carolina, the overall rate is 19.6 percent, but the child rate is lower, at 27.6 percent.

“That is the big picture,” Osbourne said, referring to the statistics. “But when the food stamp system has a blip, that has a significant impact on a huge issue.”

Local services that provide food assistance have also struggled, in recent years, to gather community donations – particularly now that the Christmas trees are packed away and the season of giving is long past.

“The community is so faithful to food pantries during the holiday months,” Osbourne said. “It’s important to remember that the hunger issue continues. It is a daily battle at Yokefellow, not just during holidays.”