November 22, 2005

Food pantries struggling to stay open, Associated Press

The Rev. Lonnie Walters says many residents who eat at his soup kitchen in Sandusky are working poor who don't make enough money to feed their families. But Walters is worried whether he can keep operating because money is running out.

Operators of food pantries across Ohio are facing an uncertain future because demand for food is increasing at a time when donations are dwindling.

Donations to food banks are down as more people are sending money to those in hurricane ravaged areas of the nation. Higher energy costs and an increase in poverty in Ohio also add up to tough times for food pantries.

"The food is just not there to meet demand," said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks. "Families are having to spend more of their income on fuel and what little they have - it's just not stretching far enough."

Victory Temple Soup Kitchen in Sandusky has enough money to last four or five months. A $100,000 donation received four years ago is almost gone, Walters said.

He has cut the free meals from five days to three and eliminated the salary of the kitchen's secretary to save money.

Walters said the need for food is great because several factories have closed, and single mothers can't support their families on jobs paying minimum wage, he said.

"It's grown to where many people are dependent upon us," he said.

Walters' wife, Nancy, said children will come to the kitchen for a free meal after school ends. "One little girl came in and asked to take something home to her mother," she said.

"I wouldn't know what to do without this place," said 41-year-old Kelly Seitz, who works but makes little money. "There are a lot of homeless people in town."

The shelves at a Lima food pantry are only half full. "We can't buy any more food unless we get additional income," said Carolyn Wilde, chairwoman of Churches United Pantry. "Unless we have a dramatic increase, we won't have much food for people."

This time of year is normally a difficult time for the pantry, but it is worse this year, she said.

"This year, with all the other disasters, people are donating elsewhere," she said. "We have never been this low on money. Ever since April, we have been spending more than we are taking in."

Second Harvest of Southeast Ohio in Logan has distributed about 5 million pounds of food this year - half the amount it gave out a year ago, Hamler-Fugitt said.

The situation is the same elsewhere, she said. "This is not just an inner-city, poor, Appalachian-area problem. We're hearing from the suburbs," Hamler-Fugitt said.

John Young, head of the Freestore Foodbank in Cincinnati, said people in low-paying jobs are worried about affording food while also paying higher utility costs.

"I believe there will be an increase in need not just during the holiday season but in the near future as well," he said.

2005 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.


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