Overall, area food pantries are reporting higher levels of need this year compared to last.
Some pantries have been able to keep up with the demand while others are still struggling.
The Missourian spoke with six local pantries to see how they were faring heading into the holiday season.
Agape Food Pantry, St. Clair
The tables have turned at Agape Food Pantry in St. Clair. Some people who used to contribute goods are now recipients, said Kathy Jennemann, who runs the pantry.
“We are getting half the donations and twice the people,” said Jennemann, adding that Agape also is a homeless shelter where about 25 people stay.
“We will feed anyone who comes in hungry,” she said.
The number of people seeking food from the pantry has doubled since last year, she said, while donations are down.
Jennemann said people who used to be faithful donors have lost jobs in the poor economy.
As a result, people who used to be able to get a banana box full of food, now are getting about half of that.
Thankfully, Operation Food Search, which is offered through Schnucks, allows the pantry to receive fresh baked goods and produce, she said. That program involves the grocery store donating items that are still good, but set to expire soon.
If people want to help, they can bring in canned meat products, such as chicken, tuna and Spam. While a can of vegetables is better than nothing, Jennemann likes for recipients to be able to make a meal out of the donations.
Pasta, cereal, beef stew and ravioli also make good donation items.
People can drop off donations at the pantry, which is located at 1095 N. Service Road W., St. Clair.
Items can be dropped off during the pantry’s normal hours of Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Union Food Pantry
Union Food Pantry volunteer Jan Brennan said she expects a small increase in the number of families the pantry helps this year.
If the projections for November and December pan out as expected, the pantry will have served more than 2,000 families this year for a total of more than 5,000 adults and children, she said.
It appears there have been more new families served by the pantry this year, Brennan said, adding that people of all ages from children to seniors on fixed incomes benefit.
Fortunately, Brennan said, “We are supported by the community really well.”
For instance, she said the Boy Scouts’ food drive this year surpassed last year’s drive.
Brennan said she’s grateful to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, schools, churches, post office, police department, businesses and individuals who contribute.
She is very pleased with the amount of donations that have come in this year.
“We have a lot of private individuals who donate on a regular basis,” said Brennan, adding the pantry would not exist without the community.
The donations help families and the Union School District, she added.
Right now, she said, it may appear that the pantry has adequate donations. But she said people tend to give more this time of year and then donations drop off after the holidays. This can leave the pantry with a shortage during the spring and summer, she noted.
Peanut butter and jelly make good donations, as do household items such as deodorant, bar soap and shampoo. Cereal, dry pasta, tomato sauce and spaghetti sauce also are all good items to donate.
Those who wish to make a donation can do so at 113 W. Locust St., Union. People can call to set up a time to donate items by calling the pantry at 636-584-7050. The shelter is open Monday and Thursday between 2 and 4 p.m.
Loving Hearts Outreach
For Sandy Crider, executive director of Loving Hearts Outreach, this year has marked the worst in her 16 years since starting the organization.
“It’s been horrible,” she said.
People think the economy is rebounding, she said, but some people who didn’t have jobs before are now working one or two part-time jobs and have no reserve if something goes wrong.
Additionally, more people started needing help this year, she said.
And with USDA food commodities being cut more than in half, the organization is having trouble providing for families in need.
“Our allocation went from 22,000 pounds (of food per month) to 2,500 at one point, a difference of 20,000 pounds of food,” she said. “We had to cut back on the amount of food given to clients.”
The amount has gone back up to about 8,500 pounds per month.
Now that the St. Louis food bank has food available for purchase, the center is pushing for financial donations.
For every dollar, the pantry is able to buy 10 pounds of food, Crider noted, adding that she is able to buy it by the skid.
The number of people and families needing help with food and utilities has gone up, she said, adding that just in the past week the center has seen not fewer than 60 families each day it’s open.
“As soon as we get money in, it goes right back out,” she said. “Every time our door opens, so many people walk in.”
Crider said the center is still seeing new people and people are more desperate than they’ve ever been.
“More people are crying because we ran out of utility assistance or losing their temper because we’re out (of funds). They’re frustrated. They’re more aggravated than we’ve ever seen them,” she said.
This year, the center is providing backpacks of food for about 150 children in the Washington School District to bring home on the weekends. It also is providing about for about 50 in the Union/Beaufort area through a pilot program.
“There’s a desperate need for these children to have food,” she said. “We have to keep this program going.”
Loving Hearts’ Christmas program is in the same shape — there is a lot of need and money is shy.
“It’s hard to even think about Christmas,” said Crider, who was quick to thank the community for its support. She also said she’s thankful the United Way met its goal.
Crider said bell ringers are still needed to collect donations outside of businesses.
Loving Hearts is located in Washington, but serves residents throughout the area.
For more information on how to help, people may call 636-390-8300
St. Peter’s UCC
St. Peter’s United Church of Christ Food Pantry in Washington is in good shape, according to Jim Gephardt, food pantry coordinator.
Overall, the pantry has done well with both monetary and food donations, said Gephardt, adding that donations are slightly up.
The Boy Scout Food drive donation also was up.
Gephardt said the pantry, which serves 70 to 80 families per month, is not in need of anything at this time.
Like other organizers, Gephardt thanked the community and surrounding areas for contributions.
Donations will be accepted almost anytime of the day at the church, located at 20 E. Fifth St.
St. Francis Borgia
Ken Donnelly, associate director of the St. Francis Borgia Food Pantry, said the pantry has had a very good year.
A recent food drive, “Food for Whiskers,” was very successful, he said.
Students used food to vote for whether Father Brian Hecktor, parochial administrator, should shave his beard or keep it.
Boy Scouts, schools and other organizations also have helped stock the pantry.
“One month ago the pantry was pretty low, but we’re at a peak right now,” said Donnelly, who has been a volunteer at the pantry since 2000.
He complimented the community on its generosity.
Like other pantry directors, Donnelly said the number of people needing help has increased this year, as well as the number of people served.
Donation wise, the pantry is only in need of jelly to go with its peanut butter, he said.
The pantry is open Mondays and Thursdays from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
Agape Help House Food Pantry, Pacific
Executive Director Brenda McDaniel said people seeking help has increased since food stamp benefits were scaled back this month.
The temporary increase in food stamp benefits that was part of the 2009 stimulus program expired in November.
While more people are in need, donations have been down this year, McDaniel said.
But she said the Boy Scouts food drive has given a much-needed boost to the pantry and now organizations are having food drives for the holidays.
The pantry also operates a thrift store with the sale proceeds going to buy food and provide emergency utility assistance.
Canned meats, tuna, soups, stew, chili, peanut butter and macaroni and cheese make great donations , she said.
McDaniel said she greatly appreciates the community’s support.
People can drop off donations at the pantry, which is located at 120 Lamar Parkway in Pacific. It is open Monday, Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.