At LaGrange Personal Aid, three large wooden bins that normally would be full of food for needy families are totally empty. All that was left Thursday was a shopping cart and a set of shelves with canned goods.
“It’s getting down there,” said Paul Stedman, director of LaGrange Personal Aid. “The economy is hitting all our programs. People are having a hard time right now.”
Requests for food bank goods have doubled. Normally LaGrange Personal Aid, at 416 Pierce St., sees about 25 families a week during “normal” times. The number has gone up to 50.
The organization has two major food drives during the year – one with the Boy Scouts of America and another with the U.S. Postal Service. LaGrange Personal Aid was able to make it through the summer with donations from the Boy Scouts but the next post office food drive isn’t until February. A few local businesses and organizations are having smaller food drives, personal aid staff are counting on those – and for individuals to donate.
“It’s time for the individuals to step up,” said Barbara Hand, who has run the personal aid food pantry for more than 20 years.
In West Point, donations also are down. Usage is down, but only because the food closet there is no longer serving Lanett, Ala., residents. Other organizations in Alabama help those in need.
“We’re low on everything,” said Bettye Tyner, who runs the food pantry at the former West Point High School on U.S. 29. “I’m trying t figure out how to get enough food for 15 to 20 people, because everyone gets one of each item.”
Local churches have been donating regularly to keep the food pantry open, but Tyner also says she’ll welcome donations from individuals.
Donations in West Point can be made any time the food pantry is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 to 12. Donors also may call her at (706) 773-6262 and Tyner will arrange for drop-off.
“I’ll open the closet any time for donations,” she said.
Stedman and Hand ask that donated food be “in date” and not expired.
“People shouldn’t give what they wouldn’t eat themselves,” Stedman said.
At least two local soup kitchens also are seeing an increase in customers. At First United Methodist Church in LaGrange, the kitchen is open on Mondays for a sit-down meal and Wednesdays for a “take out” sandwich. Last Wednesday the church prepared 55 sandwiches and ran out; they normally see about 25 people, said Beth Godwin, food services director. For the sit-down meal, the church used to set up six tables, which seat eight to nine people. Now they set up eight tables, which are always full.
“The first of the month used to not be as crowded and now it’s crowded all the time,” she said.
At First Baptist Church on the Square, attendance at the Tuesday soup kitchen is up greatly, said Pat Tyndall, the pastor’s secretary.
“We had 120 people last week,” she said. “We’ve seen a steady increase since August.”
Both churches have no plans to stop their soup kitchen ministries.
“We’ve been blessed as a church and we’ve tried to turn that around and bless others,” Tyndall said. “We see the importance of it.”
Jennifer Shrader may be reached at email@example.com or at (706) 884-7311, Ext. 236.