Groceries and lunch: Local food pantries, soup kitchens see spike in demand in downturn
It’s like the parking lot at Wal-Mart outside the door to the Verona Community Food Pantry, located on the backside of the Department of Social Services building at the Augusta County Government Center complex off U.S. 11.
Inside it’s just as crazy as the Wal-Mart on a weekend, long lines at the counter and shopping carts banging into each other and all.
“It’s like this here every day,” said Hunter Fauber, the executive director of the all-volunteer pantry, the biggest pantry of its kind in the Greater Augusta region, serving just short of 8,000 people in the month of April, and distributing more than 270,000 pounds of food to its patrons that month.
The Verona pantry, which is supported by 20 area churches and organizations, has been seeing on the order of 20 new families a day walk through its doors since the first of the year, said Fauber, a founding member of the pantry that was started 19 years ago and moved into the 2,800-square-foot donated space it operates in now in 2003.
Sixty-three food pantries and soup kitchens in the Greater Augusta area provide a warm lunch or a week’s worth of groceries to local residents in a bind. Demand for their services has gone up across the board since the start of the economic downturn in late 2007.
“In the fall we were cooking for 50 every day. We got to a point where we said, What are we going to do if we get more than that?” said Kay Cracas, who heads up the soup kitchen at Trinity Episcopal Church in Downtown Staunton, which served 722 lunches to 147 unique individuals in the month of April, down from a high of 900-950 meals a month each of the last four months of 2008.
Several local churches and church groups assist Trinity in running its weekday lunch program. Joining them in the effort have been local businesses like Lineage Architects in Verona, which amended its plans for an annual company Christmas dinner to cook meals for the Trinity soup kitchen.
“We all had friends who were out of work, and we all knew friends who were struggling, and that food pantries here locally were having a tough time, and decided to do a dinner for somebody else as opposed to doing it for ourselves,” said Pennie Garber, the co-owner of Lineage Architects with her husband, Jon.
The Garbers and their five employees and their families got together to make chili and chicken pot pie to be served as the church. They ended up making enough for two lunches to be served.
Lineage Architects is not alone in offering a hand up. I’ve come across stories of local churches planting community gardens to provide produce to food pantries and to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, and local farmers who donate livestock to be processed and packaged that I saw in shopping carts at the Verona Community Food Pantry on my visit there.
And local grocery stores are even in on the act, donating bread and overstock items to pantries like the one across the street from my office in Downtown Waynesboro, Main Street United Methodist Church.
Food Lion alone donates 10,000 pounds of food a year that volunteers at Main Street UMC pick up and redistribute to the 75 families a week who drop in for a week’s worth of groceries.
The local Kroger stores and Big Apple Bagels in Waynesboro also showed up on the donor lists that I looked over at the local pantries that I visited recently.
It’s heartening to see so many people pitching in to help their fellow man and woman, but I wouldn’t say we’ve got the market on this cornered in any respect. I’m encouraging everybody I know to pitch in and help out however they can – donating money, donating canned goods or garden produce, donating their time.
This is definitely one of those there but for the grace of God go I times in our history. Lend a hand if you can.
– Donations of money, even $5, will help local pantries cover expenses related to their operations.
– Donations of canned goods and particularly in the summer months fresh fruits and vegetables are also important to meeting the needs in the local community.
– And you can donate your time – working a check-in desk, helping cook a meal, picking up donated items from a local business.
For more on what you can do to help, go to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank website to find a food pantry near you.