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Local food pantries experience rise in demand

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A Columbus woman aiming to recover from an upcoming knee surgery and return to her job also hopes to recover from the financial bind her physical situation has left her facing.

Local food pantry officials said she is just one of a growing number of Bartholomew County residents struggling to cover expenses in a tight economy — one that has stretched some community resources to record levels.

Kim Watts has used all her vacation time from a manufacturing job and visited the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches’ Love Chapel food pantry recently for groceries for her household of three people.

Her shopping cart was full of groceries. Her heart was full of gratitude.

“They really go out of their way around here to help people,” Watts said of the busy pantry, open six days per week. “It’s meant a lot to us, from toiletries to food.”

Last month, Love Chapel served a record 4,009 individuals and a record 1,196 families — a nearly 50 percent jump compared to 800 families nine months ago. The rise also includes what officials see as a noticeable increase in the number of people living under one roof.

Love Chapel Executive Director Elizabeth Kestler said that development possibly could be traced to increased grocery costs and increased cost of utilities.

“So, it could be the general, increased cost of living,” she said.

The pantry, supported by about two dozen area Christian churches, will get a little help from the Sept. 20 Seeds of Love 5K Run/Walk fundraiser organized by Columbus’ First Baptist Church.

The event raised $4,665 last year, organizer Abiola Oladapo said. “And we want to let people know that this is an ongoing need.”

Running to help

You can help Love Chapel food pantry by entering the agency’s Seeds of Love 5K Run/Walk.

When: 8 a.m. Sept. 20

Where: First Baptist Church, 3300 Fairlawn Drive, Columbus

Cost: $20

Information and registration:

By the numbers

903: Record number of individuals served in July at the Salvation Army food pantry

4,009: Record number of individuals served

in July at Love Chapel food pantry

1,196: Record number of households served in July at Love Chapel food pantry

Kestler mentioned that the pantry, Bartholomew County’s largest among three serving the county, is now spending more than ever monthly just on milk — an estimated $3,000.

“All of the (fundraising) events are important for us to put all the pieces together to meet the current need,” Kestler said. “It’s important for the community to know that they help us provide resources, so we never have to turn away anyone in need.”

Struggling families are allowed to visit Love Chapel at 311 Center St. once per month for about $65 worth of groceries, estimated to feed a family of four for about a week. The types of items available include those typically found on grocery store shelves, including occasional fresh fruit, canned vegetables, frozen meats, milk, cereal and peanut butter.

Families can visit an unlimited number of times for items such as bread and pastries, however.

Lt. Jodi Sladek, one of the commanders at the Columbus’ Salvation Army, 2525 Illinois St., said many of those visiting the church and social service agency’s pantry are working at jobs paying minimum wage or a little more.

“If you’re raising a family,” Sladek said, “that often doesn’t amount to much.”

The Salvation’s Army’s pantry numbers of people served were up 29 percent in July over last year, Sladek said. The agency served 903 people that month, compared to 700 a year ago.

Like staff at Love Chapel, Sladek also is seeing more relatives living under a shared roof. Plus, the need for financial help with rent and utilities has increased enough that the agency gave the last of its 2014 financial help last month. That money comes from the annual holiday Red Kettle Campaign.

Disabled single grandparent Kim Staley of Columbus struggles to have enough food for the 8- and 9-year-old grandchildren she is raising. She receives a $968 monthly disability payment and $69 in food stamps per month.

“You can do the math,” Staley said. “If it weren’t for the food pantries, I simply wouldn’t be able to feed these kids. And I don’t know what else we could do. I don’t have relatives in a position to help.”

So she was grateful on a recent afternoon to get several days worth of groceries at The Salvation Army — her first visit there.

At the Community Center of Hope food bank, interim director Andrea Wallace said the 417 individuals helped in July represented a large increase over this time a year ago. She added that August’s numbers are continuing that trend.

Love Chapel’s Kestler said she’s confident any growing need will continue to be met.

“This,” Kestler said, “always has been a compassionate community.”

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