Local News

Food pantries expect more business with food stamp cut backs

SEBRING - During most first Fridays of the month, when Faith Lutheran Church in Sebring has its food pantry open, relatively few people come for food. But during each subsequent week, the number of people visiting the pantry increases. "We're out of food by noon," said Traci Roberts, a staff member at the church, regarding the later weeks in the month. That's because by the end of the month, many people have used up all their food stamps, she said.
Traffic may further increase since a cutback in the food stamp program that took effect last year may result in people running out of the stamps earlier and needing help, she said. Under the changes, the maximum monthly benefit for a family of four has decreased from $668 to $632, according to a New York Times article. More people may need help, but Parkway Food Ministry cannot accommodate them, said Dale Hollowell, the director. "We have 350 families (receiving food) and that's all we can handle," he said. "I imagine there will be more people needing food." As is, Hollowell said, they've needed to cut back. In past years, the program gave out food each week, but that's been cut back to twice a month, he said. "We don't get the food donations we used to," he said. Just as importantly, Hollowell said, the program has limited room to store and give out food. Marlene Christiansen, executive director of Manna Ministries in Lake Placid, said they serve 500 to 700 families each month. She said the cuts may result in the program serving more people. "We're probably expecting a few more," she said. "For some families the cuts put them over the edge." Christiansen said the program has 3,000 families registered, but "most of them don't come in every month. They come in when they need something extra." The program should be able to handle the increase from the food stamp benefit cut, she said. Most of the program's foods come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Commodities Program and donations from grocery stores and private individuals, she said. The Avon Park Church Service Center expects an increase in requests, but should be able to handle the increase, said John Jeffo, the executive director. Jeffo said they provide food to families once a month. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834