SOUTH BEND — Some come wearing work clothes visiting the pantry before or after work. Others join the line with children in tow. The line is quiet, some making small talk, while many just wait wondering how life turned out this way. Many keep their heads down with occasional glances and short smiles.
The place is Catholic Charities and Wednesday is food pantry day. People all around Michiana come to the organization looking for a way to provide food for their family.
The process for new clients can take up to 20 minutes to receive services due to the paperwork process. Returning clients can usually have their packages ready in five to 10 minutes.
Fire code laws allow only 10 people at a time in the lobby and the staff at Catholic Charities works hard to make the process go as quickly as possible.
“Our intake and service process is as user friendly as we can make it because we know that it can be difficult to ask for help, especially for those who have never visited a food pantry before now,” said Claire Coleman, West Region administrator. “We want to make sure that people are not overwhelmed by the process. We also try to have a volunteer or a staff person in the lobby to answer questions, help with paperwork if needed and to chat with the clients as well so they feel more comfortable.”
Catholic Charities serves residents of St. Joseph County on a walk-in, first come, first serve basis during food pantry hours from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. They hope to expand service hours in the future to serve more families, who can receive services once every four weeks. Some clients visit sporadically throughout the year when they need help and others come every month.
“The objective of the food pantry is to provide short-term assistance to families who are food insecure. In this action, we honor the tradition of corporal works of mercy — in particular, to feed the hungry. Helping families put food on the table when they are in need is the right thing to do, and I am thankful that we have been provided the resources to help as many people as we can,” said Coleman.
Each time a client visits the panty, they receive a package of food that contains four meals made up of 10-15 items. They provide an identical menu for each week for each family, based upon family size. Each week is a different menu based upon the foods the pantry has available. Typically, each package will include a mix of dried and canned goods. They also try to provide one frozen or canned meat item. When available, they provide cheese and yogurt, eggs, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and condiments. Personal care items are also distributed periodically.
“Clients of the food pantry are usually self-referred, which means they take the initiative to walk in or call to see if they qualify to receive food assistance. Some people are referred to us through United Way 2-1-1, their parish or a community agency. In order to qualify for assistance, client’s income should not exceed 165 percent of the federal poverty level,” said Coleman.
“There is a need for food assistance throughout the year: in the summer months, children are not having meals at school so families need help with groceries. In the winter months, families struggle with heating bills and may need food assistance. Between January and October 2011, we served 2,398 households. Our expectation is that we will serve about 3,000 families this year representing over 10,000 individuals in the community.”
During one week in October, they had a record setting day serving 87 families in four hours.
“Typically, the end of the month is when we see the most need,” Coleman said. “Seniors in the ‘doughnut hole’ have to choose whether to pay for their medicine or buy food. If they get the medications they need, then they will come to us for food.”
“It is not uncommon to hear a senior say they have gone several days without any food before deciding to come to the Food Pantry,” Coleman added. “We are seeing many lower wage working families coming to the Food Pantry because they run out of food at the end of the month. “
“Lately quite a few families need food assistance due to unemployment or a reduction in work hours,” noted Coleman.
In recent months, one third of the people who visit the Food Pantry have been new to the service and many of the returning clients have not received assistance for more than three years. But a change in circumstances has made it necessary to find help.
There are many ways that people can help Catholic Charities Food Pantry and the people in their community. Monetary donations to support the pantry along with individual donations of food or personal care items are appreciated.
“We would be happy to be the beneficiary of any school, parish or community group sponsoring a food drive for the Catholic Charities Food Pantry. Catholic Schools Week and Easter are just around the corner and a food drive would be a great service project. When we have food donated, it not only goes directly to a local family in need, it also helps us make the most of the financial contributions we receive so we are able to serve even more families,” said Coleman.
Food Pantry donations may be taken to Catholic Charities West Region Office at 1817 Miami St., South Bend. For more information contact Coleman at (574) 234-3111.
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