Delaware food banks see growing need for assistance

Food Bank of Delaware Milford Branch warehouse associate and driver Tom Parsons, of Lincoln, uses a forklift Friday to stock the shelves in the warehouse.  (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Food Bank of Delaware Milford Branch warehouse associate and driver Tom Parsons, of Lincoln, uses a forklift Friday to stock the shelves in the warehouse. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Despite indications of an improving economy, food banks are seeing a growing need for food assistance with new families coming in looking for help every day.

“We are seeing people we’ve never seen before,” said Margaret Young, benevolence director at Calvary Assembly of God in Dover.

“There are people coming in that have done everything right, but due to circumstances beyond their control have had their hours at work reduced.

“In one case, their hours were cut from 40 to only 16 and that’s not enough to pay bills or buy food.”

Feeding America, the largest food relief organization in America, provides information showing a growing need by uncovering how many individuals are “food insecure” both nationally and state by state.

Feeding America’s Food Insecurity Study indicated in 2014 that more than 119,000 Delawareans were food insecure while 122,000 Delawareans are food insecure in 2015.
While that’s about 13 percent of the state’s population, the number remains below the national average of 15.8 percent.

Hunger is a year-round issue but during the summer months, the demand is actually higher than the rest of the year, according to those involved with food assistance.

And the numbers, they claim, are steadily on the rise.

Food Bank of Delaware Milford Branch director Chad Robinson, of Harrington, stacks cans inside the warehouse.  (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Food Bank of Delaware Milford Branch director Chad Robinson, of Harrington, stacks cans inside the warehouse. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

The Food Bank of Delaware reported that during this past July, 5 percent more food was distributed than in July 2014.

Chad Robinson, director of the Milford Branch of the Food Bank of Delaware, attributes the higher summer numbers in part to kids who get free or reduced-cost lunches at school during the year no longer have access to a free meal.

“We always try to advocate that hunger doesn’t go away,” Mr. Robinson said. “People get in the summer mindset of vacation and relaxation, but families are hungry all year long, not just during the holidays.”

During the school year when kids have access to free or reduced-cost lunch, many are still at risk of being hungry on days when school isn’t in session so the Food Bank conducts a backpack program for kids from kindergarten to 12th grade, advocates say.

Students in need can discreetly receive a bag with kid-friendly, nutritious food on Fridays, before the weekend or the last day of school before a holiday or break.

The bags include food like shelf-stable milk and juice, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs and beef stew, granola bars, apple sauce and cereal.

More than 5,000 students participate each week and according to the Food Bank of Delaware; 154,886 bags were distributed during the 2014-2015 school year from 137 sites across the state.

This is another statistic on the rise. Last school year, the Food Bank saw an increase from the 2013-2014 year when 129,369 backpacks were distributed through 125 statewide sites.

One of the few positive aspects of hunger in Delaware is the willingness of those who were food insecure in the past helping those who are food insecure now.

Ms. Young said several of the Calvary pantry’s current volunteers are individuals who at one time relied on it.

“It’s really great, there are people who came to us in their time of need and now they are back on their feet and have returned to pay it forward to those who need help now,” she said.

Calvary has just one of many food pantries in the area and is open to members of the community, not just congregation members.

Those in need of food assistance from Calvary are advised to call in advance (697-7776) to arrange a pick up time and to allow time for a background check.

“Our pantry is on school grounds so we need to be assured the person is allowed on school grounds,” Ms. Young said.

“But we are also an emergency pantry so, if possible, we can prepare bags ahead of someone’s arrival. We try our very best to accommodate those in need.”

Many food pantries strive to provide recipients with a three-day supply but throughout Calvary’s 35 years experience in hunger relief, it tries to provide for seven to 10 days.

Due to the persistent and increasing need for food assistance, food banks and pantries are constantly looking for assistance in the form of donated food, money or time.

“We are always looking for donations and even though it’s only the end of summer, it’s never too early to start stocking our shelves for the holidays,” Mr. Robinson said.

If donating food, the best items to give are canned items with a long shelf life, boxed meals like macaroni and cheese and powdered milk. In anticipation of the holidays, stuffing and instant potatoes are also suggested.

Call the Food Bank of Delaware for drop-off locations at 424-3301.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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