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Pantries seek donations

Food need expected to 'smash the record'

More and more families, according to local food pantry officials, are in need of food donations this year. (click for larger version)
November 08, 2009
For too many people, the coming two months are likely to be somewhat less joyful than if they had food.

"I think, with the economy, we're feeding people that, two years ago, would've never thought of using the pantry," said Ray Fournier, president of Food Share. " We're absolutely going to smash the record again this year."

He was referring to the number of people seeking help from the food pantry in the basement of Catholic Charities on Elm Street. Last year, 5,187 people came to collect a week's worth of food for their families, but he predicted this year's total would exceed that, and it has been rising every year for some time.

Fortunately, he added, the state has maintained most of its support for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), a key supplier of food to pantries statewide.

It almost did not — last spring, the House Ways & Means Committee proposed slashing the $12 million fund by $4 million. It ended up giving the fund $11.5 million, even though the food banks themselves asked for $15 million, according to the Greater Boston Food Bank's online Harvest newsletter in September. The site also noted the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps) received some extra funds from the stimulus bill and the recent Farm Bill, respectively. The site notes those represent a crucial increase because federal supplies "make up 27 percent of the Food Bank's distribution, compared to 13 percent a year ago."

Back in Southbridge, he said Food Share has recently received aid from some unexpected sources. Last week, Fournier and others arrived at the pantry and found that someone had dropped off 1,000 pounds of food, even bringing it downstairs. Likewise, two companies — 3M and Reload Direct — each recently donated $1,000, and the latter also threw in "a few hundred pounds of food" collected at a conference in town, he said.

For more on this story, please read Monday's Southbridge Evening News.

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