Butler County's food bank needs food now -- and later

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It's the time of year for wish lists, and the chief of Butler County's food bank and its associated food cupboards has a long one.

At the top of the list is this: that the community not forget them when the holiday season is over.

"People are hungry all year round," said Janine Kennedy, director of Butler County's Community Action office. "Please don't forget about us in January."

Ms. Kennedy oversees the county's food bank, which supplies 15 food cupboards and 11 senior high-rises throughout the county.

This fiscal year, which started July 1 and runs through June 30, 2013, has been particularly challenging because of a loss of nearly a third in state funding.

"It's the same-old, same-old: less money and more people," she said.

As of October, some 2,200 families were receiving food subsidies in Butler County, up from 2,103 in October 2010. While November numbers are not yet available, Ms. Kennedy and those who work with impoverished people know that the need swells as the holidays approach. She expects that at least 2,400 families -- some 6,300 individuals -- will need help for Christmas.

This year, that help is being provided in slimmer measure. The food purchase program allocation suffered a $30,000 cut this year, leaving the food bank with about $8,000 each month for food purchases that are then passed on to the food cupboards and high-rises.

"We're just buying less and doing what we always do to try to stretch each dollar and get the biggest bang for the buck," she said.

The county's biggest food cupboard -- St. Vincent de Paul in Butler -- had 700 families in October and just last week requested 80 new application forms.

While many of the food cupboards have an adequate volunteer system in place to seek donations to compensate for the loss in subsidy from the county, others rely exclusively on the food bank. As for the reaction to the reduction in subsidies, Ms. Kennedy said it's been minimal.

"They've seen this trend over the years. They come to expect it," she said. "There's just less to go around and that's the way it is. They do the best they can."

Linda Heery, director of the Gleaners food cupboard that operates from St. Ferdinand Church in Cranberry, calls her cupboard "one of the lucky ones." She said local media coverage and the influence of church leadership in a large parish has coupled to produce substantial local support.

"As our county contribution declined, we started to see support from the community surge. We're so lucky that we don't have to rely on the county,'' she said. The business community contributes as do student volunteers. Some 200 families are signed up to receive assistance and each will get about three bags of food during the monthly distribution. Two-thirds will come from local contributions.

Some food cupboards -- those that have refrigeration -- are able to provide meats and fresh vegetables to clients. But some are not. Ms. Kennedy said her wish list is for items that will benefit all, especially monetary donations.

She said 100 percent of monetary donations will be used for food, and the donor can request that the contributions be funneled to a particular food cupboard, if that's preferred. "We'll do whatever anybody wants," she said.

Ms. Kennedy said she's grateful for everything she receives but always hopes that food contributions will include protein items as well as convenient meal-in-a-box or meal-in-a-can items.

Additionally, she said, it's a refreshing "pleasure" to receive items that she's not allowed to purchase, such as condiments, personal hygiene items and cleaning supplies.

"I can buy peanut butter but not jelly because jelly is a condiment. I can buy canned vegetables and fruit but not crackers or cereal bars, which can make a nice snack for kids. I also can't buy paper products or laundry detergent or toothpaste, and people still need to wash their clothes and brush their teeth and that stuff is expensive. It's great to get those things given to us," she said.

For more information on how to donate: Ms. Kennedy, 724-284-5125.

neigh_north

Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.


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