With poverty rising, Manchester food bank struggles to keep up with need
And, statewide, 140,000 people don't know where their next meal is coming from — the definition of hungry — up 10 percent from last year, according to Feeding America, the national organization comprising food banks from across the nation. Of those 140,000 residents, 30,000 are children, according to Mel Gosselin, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank.
The statistics are based on the number of school children in the state's largest city who receive free or reduced lunches, according to Nancy Mellitt, director of development for the food bank.
Last year, the food bank distributed 8½ million pounds of food to more than 400 food pantries and soup kitchens serving the then 130,000 hungry people across the state. In one year, another 10,000 residents joined the food lines at pantries and soup kitchens across the state; that's 1 in about 9 people living here.
"It is as bad as I have seen it in a very long time," said the mayor. "As my parents told me growing up, no child should ever go to bed hungry."
The food bank is hard-pressed to keep up with the need, especially with the closing of Shaw's and Stop & Shop groceries stores. The two grocery chains contributed a combined million pounds of food to the food bank annually, Gosselin said.
Wednesday, another 1,450 pounds of food collected at more than 200 Dunkin' Donuts shops across the state made its way into the food bank's East Industrial Drive warehouse. The doughnut shop franchisees also contributed $5,000 in cash to the agency.
"I can tell you this will be gone this week," Gosselin said of the bins piled high with canned goods, pasta, peanut butter, rice, crackers and other food.
"People aren't donating as much as before because they can't," said Debbie Learnard who works in agency relations for the food bank. She said the state unemployment rate, which was 5.1 percent in October, simply doesn't tell the real picture because it doesn't count the people who have used all their unemployment benefits.
The need also increased after Congress cut back on food stamps, she said. A family of four lost $40 a month, according to Gosselin. And, now Congress is proposing cutting about $40 billion in the farm bill, which provides funding for the Women, Infants and Children program, food stamps and Meals on Wheels for seniors.
In August, food bank workers took part in Feeding America's most recent directed study of the nation's hungry, which is done every four years. Mellitt said New Hampshire Food Bank workers were given specific sites to go to and survey every fifth or ninth person. Workers also had tablets that those at the soup kitchens or food pantries could fill out. The study involved both those working at the food programs and the recipients.
"I'm nervous about what we are gong to see," said Gosselin.
The food bank welcomes donations, which can be made at its 700 E. Industrial Drive headquarters, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will be open this Saturday as well — from 8 a.m. to noon — when turkeys will be distributed to the agencies.
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