Local food pantries see a rise in activity as supplies decrease

Need most evident this time of year

Demand up 25% on Cape as more working families begin to need food assistance

By Gerald Rogovin

Hundreds of Cape Codders have begun to visit food pantries this year for the first time, as the shrinking U.S. economy enters a fifth year of decline.

With the onset of Thanksgiving in a matter of days, the impact of a rising demand for emergency food -- a sharp spike has taken place since spring -- donations have been drying up. Some food pantries have closed across Massachusetts.

The MA Otis Food Pantry at Air Station Cape Cod in Buzzards Bay closed last month. It had been serving 200 families on the Cape and Islands.

Click here for a complete list of food pantries and feeding programs on Cape Cod courtesy of the Cape Cod Hunger NetworkFood banks and pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in the region have been reporting tightened supplies of food and increased numbers of families in need.

A 23 percent increase this year in the number of applicants for food was reported by the Greater Boston Food Bank. It serves the needs of 190 cities in eastern Massachusetts, and is one of the bigger providers to the Cape. "Technically, the recession is over," said Stacy Wong of the organization. "But the need for food from our bank has continued to grow right up to this week."

The bank supplies food paid for by the state government and contributions from major supermarket chains, including Shaw’s, Whole Foods, Stop & Shop and Roche Bros. They generally provide beans, tuna, peanut butter and other staples recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The supermarkets also collect individual donations of food in their stores in clearly marked containers. A bag drop site is operated by the bank in Harwich for public contributions. Similar containers have begun to appear in condominium communities and shopping malls in the mid-Cape area.

The food industry used to be the major source of food, donating truckloads of canned goods and other products with long shelf lives. But when quality control was introduced about 25 years ago, misprinted labels and diluted food products disappeared. National food corporations began selling excess production to overseas markets at a discount. It was worth more in revenue than the value of tax deductions for charitable contributions, according to industry sources.

Janice Perkins, Director of Human Services at Lower Cape Outreach, told CapeCodToday, "Demand is up by 25 percent so far this year. We've noticed a great many more working families, both mother and father, coming to us for help for the first time. Most were once reluctant to ask for help, until they had no choice." Her agency provides bags of frozen meat, fresh vegetables and canned goods to needy families in eight food pantries from Harwich to Provincetown. The pantries serve about 1,400 individuals each month.

Public awareness of the need for food aid by families has grown across the region. "But the focus is usually around this time of the year," said Brenda Swain, Director of the Falmouth Service Center and co-chair of the Hunger Network. "I wish communities could provide help to the needy year-round."

Typical of Thanksgiving programs is the one conducted by the Yarmouth Police Department for the Yarmouth Food Pantry. Earlier this month, the police filled a cruiser with food they collected from the public. In Falmouth, 900 Thanksgiving baskets will be distributed next week to families by the Falmouth Service Center. Head Start in Hyannis has put up 67 such baskets for families in seven towns. The cost will be borne by the Masonic Angel Fund, which since 1998 has furnished food, basic clothing, eyeglasses and specialized camp programs to children.

"We usually get turkeys each year from the Greater Boston Food Bank," said Mal Hughes, Head Start director. "But their resources have been reduced this year, and we don't expect any."

 Adding to the difficulty of food pantries to get supplies from food banks, the cost of a turkey dinner with all the trimmings will cost 13 percent more than in 2010, according to the 

American Farm Bureau Federation. On average, it will cost $49.20 to serve 10 people the turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes. A year ago, the cost was $43.47. 

"We're four years into this awful economy, and it's really getting hard for families to cope," Hughes said. \Jobs have evaporated on the Cape. Construction has just about stopped, so that means that carpenters, masons and electricians who've not worked on a new house for months can no longer manage.&rdquo

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