Food pantries help the needy – but they are also in need.

“Last year our roster increased by 31 percent. That’s kind of a nationwide phenomena now,” said Ruth Magee, director of Grace Community Food Pantry in Grove City.

“Each week, between six to 10 new families are enrolled.”

The Lakeview Area Helping Hands Center in Stoneboro could use about $4,000 for the holidays alone, added Pegge DeAngelo, director.

“I think we’re probably around $2,500,” she said. All year, “If we could get another $1,200 to $1,500 a month, it would really just help a lot. We’d give away so much more food.

“There’s much need. We get calls every day from people with their electric getting shut off or their fuel supply or water.”

While needs have increased, outside donations are down.

Connie Emmett, director of Feed My Sheep Food Cupboard in Slippery Rock, sees less food and money donations this year than in prior years.

“We believe it’s harder for people because of the gas situation and heating costs,” she said. “Food cupboards are put on the back burner, so to speak. They don’t have donations they’d have otherwise.”

Rising petroleum and natural gas costs “is taking its toll, and of course everything else is going up as a result of that,” Magee added.

In the last two years, Feed My Sheep has also seen less food from the state through its distribution centers in Butler and Pittsburgh.

“All cupboards suffer from this,” Emmett said. “In Butler County alone, we have 18 cupboards. That’s a lot of people in need.”

However, the directors stated that their food pantries are mainly supported by churches, individuals, service organizations, businesses and their host school districts, anyway.

Helping Hands also has sales from Grace Boutique, a second-hand store to factor into its budget. The boutique is named after the late Grace Burns, a volunteer who “couldn’t do enough for people,” DeAngelo added.

Giving is more abundant during the holidays.

“Especially with food drives this time of the year,” Magee said. “It helps very, very much and we’re grateful to anyone who gives. Cash donations are intermittent.”

Emmett credits the presence of Slippery Rock University and Slippery Rock schools, “who have drives for us,” she said. Food drives “release new and different foods, and that’s nice.”

Thanks to the community, Feed My Sheep was able to provide a meal complete with turkeys to 149 families for Thanksgiving, she added.

During the holidays, Helping Hands furnishes winter clothing and footwear for children to teens (if they are still in school), DeAngelo said.

“A lot of (missions) only do that until 13 years old,” she added. It also provides gifts for children’s wish lists, asking churches, individuals and Girl Scouts to sponsor them, she said.

Additionally, “Feed a Family,” a.k.a. “The Spirit of the Holidays” is underwayTina Horner 11/30/07 until Jan. 1. For a $25, people can support a needy family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and its regular monthly food order, DeAngelo said.

“We’ve very generous. Our food pantry is known throughout the area.”

The only reason Feed My Sheep stays open is due to the greater Slippery Rock community, Emmett added.

“We’re fortunate to be located where we are. People bring in food all the time, but don’t always have 149 cans of food in a certain kind, but different ones and we work with that.”

For the holidays, in addition to meal boxes, Grace provides families certificates for $10 or $15 “for a main dish for their holiday meal” at local grocery stores, Magee noted. For that, “cash donations are nice.”

Grove City is also very giving to Grace, she added. “I consider us a very fortunate food pantry.”

Yet, the pantries need help year-round.

The pantries don’t cut giving to clients during lean months for donations. Rather, they cut corners on spending.

“We try to buy more carefully,” Magee said.

Annually, Grace gets a grant from the Feinstein Foundation, named after a Rhode Island philanthropist who divides money to hunger-fighting agencies annually in the U.S. based on what their communities donate to them.

“It’s a couple hundred dollars for us during the year. We use that to remind people to give more,” Magee said.

January, February and March is when Helping Hands could use a hand. “Everybody spends all their money and it’s the deep part of the winter,” DeAngelo said.

“We pray a lot. We try to watch the thermostats and those kinds of things, just like you do at home. We shop very frugally.”

Surprisingly, the summer months are the slimmest times.

“People are on vacation, and thoughts aren’t on cupboard like they are when the kids are at school,” Emmett added.

“Sometimes at holiday time, we get more in and it averages out over the year. You make due with what contributions you do get.”

Magee concurred. “Some of the moneys we use this time of the year can hold over,” she said. “In the winter and early spring; and summertime, our giving definitely goes down.” Tina Horner 11/30/07

Grove City College students are active volunteers at Grace, and most are on break in the summer, she noted.

“Also, people perceive when the holidays are over and people are not paying heat that they don’t need help from the food pantry. That’s not the case.”

The children of families who go to Grace are often eligible for free and reduced lunch and breakfast programs in the school district.

They don’t get those during the summer. “Their parents need to feed children three meals day,” Magee said. “The need increases in summer months.”

Grace serves about 295 families in the Grove City Area School District.

In November, Helping Hands served about 120 families in the Lakeview and Commodore Perry school districts. “We gave out over 1,000 bags of food (for Thanksgiving),” DeAngelo said.

Helping Hands also serves the Stoneboro Salvation Army’s region.

“We have the most zip codes of (any pantry) in Mercer County,” she added.

Feed My Sheep serves northern Butler County, including Slippery Rock and Moniteau school districts and Prospect, Portersville, parts of Butler and Mount Chestnut.

“We had 137 families last month, over 300 people,” Emmett said.

They include about 35 elderly families, who need help because of expensive medications.

“About 50 families don’t come that are signed up. We had 199 signed up the first of the year,” Emmett said. “Some say they’ll come only if they need help. If they get job back or over a disability, we don’t see them again.”

Younger families are primarily working, two-parent homes, but “the jobs don’t seem to be out there to pay good wages and benefits that these families need,” Emmett added. “Some need a higher education, but these people don’t have it.”

Grace mainly serves working families “who can’t make ends meet or they’re disabled,” Magee noted.

Foods distributed are the usual non-perishable items, but each pantry tries to provide fresh meats, eggs, dairy and produce.

They also need donations for things “food stamps don’t buy,” DeAngelo added, like toiletries, cleaning supplies, and diapers.

Helping Hands also welcomes canned pastas for its children and senior citizen clients. It’s easy to prepare and has good protein and fat content, DeAngelo said

“With a family of three kids, you always give them 10 to 12 cans of pastas, raviolis, meatballs and sauce,” she noted.

“Fruit is something we always need. Something light for diabetics and heart people. We’re always in need of plastic bags.”

In general, food pantries are meant “to give a three- to five-day a month supply of food to families,” Magee said.

“Our families have to do something else. Some are on food stamps, but most clients are not on food stamps. Others purchase their own groceries.”

Grace serves a large order once a month, on Monday. During the other Mondays of the month, it gives a food supplement.

“A lot of folks don’t realize how many we’re serving,” Magee said.

Helping Hands distributes by appointment on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. “You get a custom box delivery,” DeAngelo said.

The center serves on Mondays for emergencies. “If someone needs food, we make sure they get it,” she added.

Feed My Sheep distributes once a month to clients, either Tuesdays or Thursdays.

“We can give government food once, but we can give our food out another time,” she added.

The Mercer area’s food programs include Loaves and Fishes in Coolspring Township, serving the local school district, according to income; and the Sharing Shed, through Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in the borough, serving anyone in need from any location, regardless of income.

Clintonville Community Food Pantry serves southern Venango County, including Barkeyville, Wesley, Clintonville and Emlenton areas.

All programs are based on income, except for Sharing Shed, which also serves those in need from any location.

Also, Angel Food Ministries is not based on income. For $25, individuals can purchase food menus worth much more. Optional specials, like steak or entree packages, cost extra. For instance, December holiday specials cost between $14 to $24.

Locally, Angel Food operates out of Harrisville United Methodist Church, Main Street; First Church of God at 1333 W. Main Street, Grove City; and Vincent United Methodist Church, 20 Walnut St., Jackson Center.

Without reduced food programs, discount grocery stores and food pantries, “We’d literally have people starving to death,” Magee said. “It’s very important for communities to have those.”

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