Local food banks feeling effects of economy

11/2/2012

By ANGIE HAFLICH

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Like consumers, local food pantries also are experiencing the pinch of higher food prices.

The Salvation Army, Emmaus House and United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries' food pantries, while partially stocked, all are running short of what are considered their staples.

"We're completely out of meat. We could use some meat, some cheese, beans, rice — those things that families need — flour, sugar. Those things that are going to keep them going every day," Robert DeLeon, community center director of the Salvation Army, said.

All three organizations have plenty of canned vegetables, but are low, if not completely depleted, of other items.

"What happens is when people bring in food for food drives, they always bring in cans, which are wonderful. I mean, we can all use vegetables and fruit, but man, we need the flour to make bread or tortillas, we need rice and beans to fill bellies, and some meat," DeLeon said.

Belly-filling food is what Emmaus House refers to as meals.

"We don't have the stuff that we use for like a meal. Your meat's a meal, macaroni and cheese is a meal, peanut butter is a meal, rice is a meal, and we're out of rice, too. We're really down this year," said Carrie Haas, Emmaus House staff member.

At UMMAM, the story is similar.

"We don't have any cereal, no spaghetti sauce, no canned food. Just the green beans and the corn," said Elda Venegas, UMMAM community developer, adding that the agency usually keep spaghetti sauce, pasta, tuna, chicken and other kinds of canned meats.

She said that recently, after receiving a cash donation, she planned to use it to stock up on peanut butter, but found that the cost restricted her.

"Peanut butter is so expensive — for the smaller ones, it was over $2. So, I decided if I get peanut butter, that's all I can get, so I used some of it to buy macaroni and cheese," she said, adding that she could get more for her money that way.

All three say that it is the higher price of food that is not only limiting what they can buy with cash donations but also limiting the types of food that donors can afford to give.

"I think it's the economy. Some people are hard up. The ones that donate are now having a little bit of problems themselves, so they can't do it. They're not down enough that they have to come to us, but they're down," said Lena Harris, Emmaus House staff member.

DeLeon said that he sees the same thing happening with the people he serves.

"I think it's higher grocery prices and just prices in general have gone up, so they have to make a choice. 'Do I buy food, or do I buy medicine? Do I put gas in the car to get to work, or do I get food?' So they're having to make choices, and it's been a challenge," he said. "So they come in, and we try to look at their budget and their income. We can definitely see that they're hurting. It's not like they're wasting their money."

Both the Salvation Army and Emmaus House are eligible to purchase food from the Kansas Food Bank in Wichita. DeLeon said that this helps when it comes to buying items in bulk and that, for this reason, cash donations are going further than food donations right now.

Haas said the same is true for Emmaus House.

"If they can give us money, Robin (Marsh) can purchase the food cheaper than you and I going to buy it because she can get it in bulk," she said about Marsh, director of Emmaus House.

Venegas said that UMMAM is willing to take anything it can get — cash or food.

"Right now, it doesn't matter if they want to go buy it, they can just go ahead and buy it and bring it over. If they don't know what to buy, they can make a donation and just specify that it's for the food pantry, and then that way we can go buy the stuff," she said.

DeLeon said that he is also always open to building partnerships with any entity that has extra food that it doesn't want to waste.

"Anyone who wants to partner with us here that has food they don't want to waste, can give us a call. If they have food they don't want to waste, we'll put it to good use. There are families that need it," he said, adding that he hopes the community will come together to help those in need.

Donations to the Salvation Army can be dropped off at 216 N. Ninth St., donations to the Emmaus House can be dropped off at 802 N. Fifth St., and donations to UMMAM can be dropped off at 224 N. Taylor Ave.

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