Higher demand, bad economy emptying food bank shelves

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
When Randy Sawyer lost his truck driving job in February, he had no idea he would still be looking for work in July.

The Marion County Emergency Food Bank came to his aid, Sawyer said as he finished filling several sacks with canned goods, paper products and other items that will help him through the next couple weeks.

The food bank has assisted more than 75 people so far this year, said coordinator Janet Bryant. That’s more than normal-a result of the poor economy, she suspects.

The increased demand, combined with a drop in donations, has left some of the shelves at the food bank empty.

“We had a group that always contributed food in May and helped tide us over, and that just didn’t happen this year,” she said.

The bulk of the donations occur at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Bryant said, and the summer months often find the stock depleted.

“People give food at Thanksgiving and Christmas and think that it will last all year. It just doesn’t do that,” she said.

Bryant said the need for the food may actually be higher during the summer months.

“Families have children who, during the school year, are getting lunches and perhaps breakfast at school,” she said. “All the sudden these kids are home during the summer and there’s more food needed.”

Summer months are also big moving months, she said, and moving often creates financial pressures that place families in emergency situations.

“We serve people from all over the county,” Bryant said. “When I was going through and looking at the referrals, I think maybe Lehigh might have been the only place in the county that didn’t have a person who came since January.”

The food bank opened in 1985 and is run by the Marion Church Women United. Churches take turns manning the food bank, which is open two mornings a week.

The food bank operates by referral. Referrals usually come through either Social and Rehabilitative Services, or ministers in the county. A referral slip is prepared, indicating the number of days food is needed and the number of people in the family.

“Most of the referrals are two weeks worth,” Bryant said. “If they want a grocery-store voucher along with that, the person making the referral needs to put that on-it’s not an automatic thing.”

The grocery vouchers “give people a chance to get milk and meat and things we don’t have on hand,” she added.

Food bank clients bring their referral slips to the food bank, which is housed in a tiny room in the northwest corner of the Valley United Methodist Church in Marion. The room is lined with shelves of food and household products.

Bryant said she lets clients make their own selections.

“Big places like Wichita just give you a box-they have to do it that way-but I don’t see any sense in doing that,” Bryant said.

“They know what they use and what they need,” she said. “I would rather them take a good amount the first time and maybe they won’t ever have to come back again. Hopefully, that will get them past whatever their problem is.”

The food on the shelves includes government commodities as well as privately donated items.

“There’s a lot of good food, ” said long-time volunteer Eula Colle.

She pointed out all the name-brand goods on the shelves of the government-subsidized area.

“I can’t believe what the government subsidizes,” she said.

Colle said the food bank is well stocked with vegetables, particularly green beans, corn and peas. But they could use any other type of nonperishable food. Paper products, cleaning products and personal hygiene products are always needed, too.

“It is hard to get toilet paper and Kleenex, because people don’t always give them,” she said.

“You need to remember things like paper products, because food stamps don’t buy those kind of things,” Bryant added.

The food bank could use most any product that people care to donate, she said.

“What people would eat themselves is probably what would go over really well-such as cereal and fruit. Some things are just expensive at the grocery store-detergent and cereals are outrageously priced,” she said.

Donations may be dropped off at the food bank Monday and Thursday mornings between 9 a.m. and noon. Checks may be sent to Janet Bryant at 524 W. Santa Fe, Marion, KS 66861.

“We are hoping people will either donate some food or help us out with some money,” Bryant said. “We use money for grocery store vouchers.”

Part of Bryant’s job is to educate county clergy and the public about the food bank. She gives talks to groups that are interested in learning about the project.

“Sometimes I’ve gone to the food bank and given little talks to Girl Scout troops or other groups that have brought a little bit of food,” she said. “They want to come in and see what’s going on.”

“I wish I had gotten on top of this a little earlier,” she added, “because at Bible schools, kids could have brought a can of food.”

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