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Sam Harvey’s grocery cart was filled with meat, vegetables and other items recently at the Love Chapel food pantry. His heart overflowed with gratitude for the free food being made available to struggling Bartholomew County residents.
“This has definitely been a godsend to our family,” the Columbus resident said of the outreach at 311 Center St. “Otherwise, there might be times when we would go hungry.”
Love Chapel, a nonprofit outreach of the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches, has seen the number of struggling families rise about 200 per month from a year ago, said Elizabeth Kestler, the pantry’s longtime executive director.
The number of individuals served has risen 53 percent, according to Love Chapel statistics.
Love Chapel staffers suspect that part of the increased need is because more relatives are living under the same roof due to economic hardships.
Harvey, who lives in a multi-generational house with five adults and two children, described the pantry as a lifesaver.
Additional help for the children comes from the federal Women, Infants and Children program, and the family gets some additional assistance from food stamps and his mother’s Social Security check.
Harvey contracted the MRSA bacteria in June and has struggled to recover energy and weight he has lost during the prolonged illness.
Plus, he has been unable to work at the job he had with a local wrecker service.
Columbus’ Rosa Lewis, recently laid off from her part-time manufacturing job in North Vernon, said she would be skipping some meals were it not for the Columbus pantry.
“I have people — relatives and friends — where I can go when I really need to eat,” Lewis said. “But I hate to impose.”
One customer just ahead of Lewis in the pantry’s shopping area mentioned that her family went without supper the night before because their refrigerator was empty.
“Even a lot of families with both parents working still are finding it tough to make ends meet,” said Shireman Brown, who helps unload donations and stock shelves at the pantry.
Reasons include a cut in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, and a tough economy, Kestler said.
At The Salvation Army, the number of households served has risen by about 50 percent over this time last year, said Lt. Alan Sladek.
Most of the 800 households coming monthly for food have seen their food stamp allotment cut by one-third, he said.
“We’re still trying to recover from Human Services’ food bank closing (last year),” Sladek said. “And then we had the Dolly Madison (plant) close last year near Christmas. And now there are cuts in SNAP. All that is kind of scaring us.”
Sladek said The Salvation Army pantry has just been “treading water,” as he put it, to keep pace with the need.
They could use the public’s help in restocking shelves.
At the Hope Food Pantry, located inside the Community Center of Hope, need is actually down by 61 families for the year in its service area of Flat Rock and Hawcreek townships, said Alise Pate, outreach coordinator. But for November, when the weather first turned cold, the pantry served 142 families, slightly above its 100- to 125-family average.
The possibility of families needing to spend more to heat their homes with the recent cold snap means there could be an increased need for food assistance, both Sladek and Pate said.
“That is something my clients tell me,” Pate said. “We never want them to have to choose between a warm, safe home and food.”
Strong support from Hope area churches has allowed the pantry to keep pace with the need, she said. For instance, the Hope Baptist Church youth group recently completed a door-to-door canned food drive that resulted in a donation of 800 items. Just before that, students at Hope Elementary School donated 1,000 cans.
Pate said that support matters — especially to her clients, many of whom are older and have limited transportation to get to Love Chapel. That includes one 86-year-old client living alone on a fixed income.
How you can help
WHERE: 311 Center St., Columbus
Hours: 9 a.m. to noon, Monday to Saturday
Pork and beans
Pasta, rice and potatoes
Where: 2525 Illinois St., Columbus
Hours: 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays
Macaroni and cheese
Hope Food Pantry
Where: 543 Washington St., Hope
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to noon Tuesdays
Fresh or canned meat
Flour and sugar
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