Food pantries to see increased demand with SNAP cuts
CHAMPAIGN — Local food pantries will soon begin seeing increased demand from families struggling with cuts in food stamp benefits, Eastern Illinois Foodbank Executive Director Jim Hires says.
Reductions in the food stamps program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, went into effect Friday for millions of families, as extra federal funding from the 2009 stimulus bill ended.
Benefits were reduced for a single person by $11 a month, from $200 to $189.
A family of four is losing $36 a month, with benefits cut from $668 to $632.
"We'll have to make up the difference," Hires said.
But, he adds, "I think that's the concern of food banks around the country. We can't fill the gap."
A $36 cut for a family of four might not seem like that much. But Hires said families on tight budgets can buy a lot of peanut butter, beans, macaroni and cheese and other staples with that much money.
"Thirty-six dollars a month is quite a bit if you're buying basics," he said.
One local organization with an active food pantry — Salt & Light in Champaign — has already been seeing more families coming for its weekly grocery give-away than it can serve, said Mike Jenkins, its director of social services.
Now, with increases in grocery prices — plus lower SNAP benefits — for low-income families to contend with, he said the organization is expecting to see even more people turning up for help.
"Of course, we're on a limited budget as well," Jenkins said.
Families on SNAP benefits tend to run out of food later in the month, and Salt & Light sees a corresponding upswing in demand for groceries later in the month, he said.
Food is given away each Wednesday from 1 to 5 p.m., and "it is not unusual on any given week to run out as early as 3:15 (p.m.)," Jenkins said.
Salt & Light will try to fill an extra 25-50 grocery carts a week with some extra-budget buying, he said.
"I will look for the biggest bang for our buck," he adds. "I will look for stuff that is very cheap, and I will try to extend it that way."
For prospective donors, the organization prefers a donation of money rather than food that was purchased retail, because it can take a donation of a single dollar and get $10 worth of food from it through the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and feed more people that way, Jenkins said.
Hires said the impact of SNAP reductions on 2 million Illinoisans will be the loss of nearly 100 million meals.
That is bound to strain food pantries throughout the Eastern Illinois Foodbank's 14-county region, and they will likely begin seeing increased demand by the end of the month, he predicted.
The food bank can try to acquire more donated food from manufacturers to fill more need, Hires said. But even donated, the food doesn't get to hungry people free.
With transportation and other expenses, it costs food bank 23 cents to 26 cents for every pound of food it provides, Hires said.
During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the food bank provided 7.5 million pounds of food, and ramping up to 8 million pounds would (at 25 cents a pound) would mean $125,000 to be raised for those extra 500,000 pounds, Hires said.
Hires said he has a "deer in the headlights" feeling, because he knows demand is going to increase and he doesn't know by how much.
"The reality is we're going to be busier," he said.