MOUNT VERNON — The annual Food for the Hungry drive will take place Saturday throughout Knox County. This drive, along with Christmas in July, collects food items and monetary donations to help stock the food pantries of Interchurch Social Services and The Salvation Army. According to agency officials, all of the local food pantries have seen either a reduction in donations, an increase in families seeking help, or both.
In general, items needed most are canned meat (chicken and tuna), beef stew/hearty soups, canned pasta, boxed dinners such as hamburger helper, peanut butter, spaghetti and spaghetti sauce, hot and cold cereal, baked beans, kidney and chili beans, noodles/instant rice, potatoes, and canned fruits and vegetables.
In addition to its Mount Vernon location, Interchurch has food pantries at branches in Danville, Centerburg and Fredericktown.
According to Kim Beaver of the Mount Vernon pantry, things are going fairly well.
“Since we went to the customer choice system, we are doing really well,” she said. “We are seeing a lot more families. We were seeing about 250 a month. Now we are seeing 300 to 350 a month.”
Beaver said supplies are holding up pretty good but there are certain items that are always in big demand.
“The things we seem to run out of the most are cereal, tuna, soups,” she said. “And then there are the taxable items: shampoo, bath soap and things like that.”
Sue Wadian is in charge of the Interchurch food pantry in Danville.
“Right now things are pretty quiet,” she said. “In regard to the food pantry, we are usually pretty quiet at the beginning of the month. [Monday] I had only one person come in. My shelves are getting low. We have enough for the rest of the month. I’m not hurting that bad. But Food for the Hungry is coming at the right time.”
Wadian said her business is growing too, with about five new people coming in each week.
“For a while, it was even more than that,” she said. “But now it’s about five to eight new people a week. Last month we served 95 people total.”
Wadian said she could use one-box meals such as hamburger helper, stews and canned meat.
Fredericktown’s food pantry is also seeing a rise in demand and fewer donations.
“We’ve done better,” said Ruby Cockerell. “Our donations haven’t been as good, but we’re getting by. We are in need of dish soap, laundry soap, noodles and toilet paper. I’m not sure exactly how many people we serve a month, but it has doubled. And we’re getting more and more all the time. I’d say we saw about 10 new families last month. Today we’ve got two more. We have people coming in daily, and coming in daily for utilities, too.”
“We’re doing pretty well,” said Debbie Guarnera of the Centerburg food pantry. “Our school gave us a huge donation this year. They are coming thorough big time. We are seeing a lot of new clients, a lot more new faces. We serve about 35 a month for the month for the pantry; 35 or 40. So far we’re doing well. And when people give us funds, we are able to purchase through the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. We just get great prices on the food through there. We can feed a person for three days for 99 cents. I can buy 12 jars of peanut butter for 54 cents, for all 12 total. So it’s amazing.”
Guarnera said the pantry can always use pancake mix and pancake syrup, and canned tuna.
“Those are usually our biggest needs,” she said.
The Salvation Army also receives assistance from Food for the Hungry. However, it works a little differently than the Interchurch food pantries. Customers are eligible every 30 days for help from Interchurch. At The Salvation Army, it is every three months. The Salvation Army also runs The Harbor, a restaurant-style program offering hot meals at little or no cost to anyone who needs it.
“We are getting some food in now,” said Maj. Robert Bender of The Salvation Army, speaking of its food pantry. “It’s been low. And we’ve had to purchase food throughout the year to supplement our regular donations. We did get some of the Stanley Can [donations] from the Nazarene College and there are some people who donate on a regular basis. We’ve had some smaller donations come in. Firestone has done a project for us for a number of years. That one is not really a part of Food for the Hungry.”
Bender said The Salvation Army serves up to 80 families.
“Eight years ago we would serve about 35 to 40 families a month,” Bender said. “Now it is not uncommon for us to hit 80 a month. It has steadily increased over the last couple of years. But if there is a county in this country that takes care of people as far as feeding people, it is this county. We have the area churches feeding people every night. We have The Harbor and Interchurch and our food boxes. It goes without saying that this community sees to it that people do not go hungry. It’s not always easy, but I think we do a pretty darn good job of it.”
Bender said he never likes to see his pantry getting low, but he doesn’t like to see it full, either.
“If the pantry is full, I’m not doing my job,” he said. “It’s there to be depleted.”