Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Rural food pantries are struggling to stock shelves, as more rural residents seek help

High poverty rates are bringing more rural Americans to the local food pantry, but some rural areas with sparse populations are struggling to find enough donations to fill the growing need to fight hunger, especially now that winter is quickly approaching.

That's the case in rural Wisconsin, where the number of visitors to Community Center of Hope in Marathon County (Wikipedia map) has jumped 12 percent since last year, Alison Dirr reports for the Wausau Daily Herald. The pantry had more than 540 client visits in October, the highest number executive director Mary Pat Campbell has seen.

It's the same throughout much of the region, Dirr writes. JoAnn Janikowski, community impact director at United Way of Marathon County, told Dirr, "All of the pantries have been strained at probably a similar level. But when you look at rural pantries, when you think about sparser populations—you have fewer people to donate; you might have higher poverty levels; there is less industry to provide food donations; the media market might be smaller in those areas, so the word of need doesn't get out. They just have some unique challenges the urban pantries might not."

The result is that places like the Community Center of Hope have had to be more strict with supplies, Dirr writes. "Campbell said such things as toothbrushes and shampoo have moved from a take-as-needed system to the 'weighed' shelves: A single person can take 10 pounds of items from those shelves, and every additional person in a family gets four additional pounds, she said. Eggs, which she tries to stock because they are a versatile source of protein, might be moved to the weigh shelf next."

Campbell has a budget of less than $70,000 per year, which has to be used for food, insurance, rent, payroll, a telephone and other expenses such as trash and snow removal, Dirr writes. "The pantry does receive donations from local businesses, churches and other groups. But in a rural area, there are just fewer sources for donations, and it's getting harder to supply enough food for growing numbers of clients, she said." (Read more)

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