December 10, 2013 // Local

Food Pantry needs grow

Volunteers from the Catholic Charities food pantry in South Bend fill clients’ request forms for food and personal care items.

By Karen Clifford

Click here for the Catholic Charities Christmas Message

SOUTH BEND — It has been a decade since Catholic Charities began offering emergency food assistance to a few people in the South Bend area. Long-time staff member Barbara Burlingham, who is currently Catholic Charities West Region assistant administrator, recalls about five families per week coming to the office seeking food assistance in 2003.

The need for food assistance grew exponentially during the following 10 years. In the last fiscal year, Catholic Charities Food Pantry served 3,479 households made up of 11,943 individuals. Just over 40 percent of the individuals served were children and senior citizens. Of the households served, 1,007 were new to the service, according to Catholic Charities West Region Director Claire Coleman.

The food pantry is a walk-in pantry, open every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon and 5-7 p.m. Residents of St. Joseph County whose income is at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible to receive food assistance once every four weeks, if needed.

At each visit, the family will receive a packet of food made up of 10-15 items as selected by the client. A typical packet of food may contain one meat item, three to four canned items, three to four dried good items and two to four additional items as available.

Coleman says, “Catholic Charities tries very hard to include meat every week and fresh items such as fruit, vegetables, eggs, butter, cheese or yogurt as often as possible. When available, personal care items are distributed to clients. Periodically, the food pantry will include informational fliers about community services, nutritional brochures and healthy recipes.”

Other than the commonality of struggling with food insecurity, there is not a typical profile of the clients served at the pantry. “Some are unemployed and needing help for the first time. Others are seniors or disabled members of the community living on small pensions or social security,” explains Coleman.

She continues, “A few clients are working in lower wage jobs or part-time jobs which may not pay enough to meet the family’s needs, especially if there is an unexpected expense. And some clients visit the pantry regularly throughout the year, while others visit only once or twice as may be needed.”

Volunteers who operate the food pantry each week are vital to the success of its operation, notes Coleman. The weekly food pantry volunteers help with signing folks in for service and helping with paperwork, as well as filling the food bags and distributing them to clients. Volunteers also organize food stock and sort personal care item donations

Catholic Charities welcomes both monetary and food donations to help meet the increasing need of families for food assistance. “Some of the most needed items include frozen or canned meat, peanut butter, pasta, rice, oatmeal and cereal. Personal care and household care items such as laundry detergent, dish soap and deodorant are always appreciated by clients,” Coleman concludes.

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