Food pantries feeling the pinch of shortages

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SouthCoast food pantries are experiencing deep troubles finding food for a growing list of hungry faces — funding is down, supplies are dwindling and demand is through the roof.

Food pantry coordinators said economic conditions are so bad they’re seeing new faces, people they haven’t seen in years and even some former donors all coming in for food.

Paula Briden, coordinator of the food pantry at St. Anthony of Padua Church in New Bedford, said volunteers are making grocery bags for 900 families a month, an increase of 35 percent.

“This week we made bags for 270 families,” she said. “Last week we closed 15 minutes early because we ran out of food.”

She said the pantry serves shepherd’s pie — turkey, mashed potatoes, carrots and corn — to people when they come for their groceries, and this week St. Anthony’s served 300 people, completely exhausting all they had baked.

“The need is increasing rather than decreasing,” she said. “The stories are just endless. I have so many people who are living on the street. These are people who are going from place to place.

“These are people with no homes, who go from one friend’s apartment to another and sleep on the couch. It’s really heartbreaking.”

It’s the same situation at PACE’s food pantry on William Street, the Salvation Army on Purchase Street and Grace Episcopal Church on School Street, all in New Bedford.

Bruce Morell, PACE’s executive director, said what’s startling to him is not just the increasing numbers, but also the types of people who are visiting PACE’s pantry.

He said people who are working two and three part-time jobs still need to come in for food.

Martha Reed, coordinator of the food pantry at Grace Episcopal Church, said there have been lines of nearly 50 people waiting outside the church for the doors to open.

“There’s more and more people coming in for help,” she said.

“I say it every year — ‘How can it get any worse than this?” asked Maj. Gilbert Parkhurst, commander of New Bedford’s Salvation Army. But it does, he said.

The Salvation Army’s federal funding is down $12,000 and administrators had to transfer money from other accounts to supplement their food program, he said.

Stacy Wong, a spokeswoman for The Greater Boston Food Bank, which supplies local food pantries, said there has been a 20 percent drop in the U.S. Department of Agriculture products the bank receives, causing a shortage of things like carrots, chicken, tomatoes and orange juice.

Wong said bank officials informed the local food pantries they supply in eastern Massachusetts — including those in New Bedford and Fall River — of the development and encouraged them to seek donations or other food sources.

She also said challenges lie ahead with Thanksgiving approaching and the wholesale price of turkey up 20 percent.

Liliana Costa, a social worker and Parkhurst’s administrative assistant, said they ordered 300 turkeys from The Greater Boston Food Bank and were told only 200 will be delivered.

“That leaves us 100 short,” she said.

This is on top of a cupboard that isn’t filled the way Salvation Army officials like it to be, Costa said.

On Thursday, there was no cereal, peanut butter, pasta, oatmeal, tomatoes or cans of fruit, and there was little tuna on the shelves.

“This is normally filled up with food,” Costa said. Because of limited supplies, “we’re definitely not giving out as much as we used to. And it’s very hard.”

Adeline Smith, 54, her brother, Dennis Smith, 49, and his girlfriend, Meredith Winn, 25, of New Bedford were getting ready to leave the Salvation Army headquarters on Thursday, their arms loaded with free bread and pastries.

They said they are all stretched to the limit and are struggling to get by.

Adeline Smith said she receives food stamps and Supplemental Security Income because she is disabled and is still having a hard time getting by.

Dennis Smith said he does repairs on his landlord’s rental property in exchange for free rent, after getting laid off from his job in a fish processing plant.

“There is a great need in the community,” he said.

Winn said she works part time as a waitress in the city and has a difficult time just affording her necessities.

Thursday was the first time Winn visited a food pantry, but she said it won’t be her last.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said.

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