Donations decline clears shelves

Food banks facing 'desperate' need

Hayden Price, 15, a volunteer, tries to keep control of canned goods Thursday as he prepares bags of food for the Community Action Partnership food bank in Coeur d'Alene.

COEUR d'ALENE - When George and Ada Crossman arrived at the Community Action Partnership Food Bank on Thursday morning, they were hoping to get enough for a few meals.

It would help, George said, get them through the weekend, to make lunch or dinner.

But one look at the near-empty coolers and barren shelves, and he knew there wasn't much.

"Today, we didn't really get nothing," the 79-year-old said. "A few things in the bag and that was it. They're really low now."

The Rathdrum couple, he said, will go without, "like everybody else does. We'll try what we can. That's all we can do."

The Crossmans are not alone in turning to the food bank at the Industrial Park.

Food bank manager Carolyn Shewfelt said they are serving an average of 130,000 pounds per month, and struggling to meet demand.

Already this year, it has added 221 families and 919 individuals. That's on top of serving nearly 6,000 families last year.

And while the number of those seeking assistance is up, donations are down. Way down.

"This is the least amount of donated food in the warehouse since I've been here," Shewfelt said, adding she's been on the job two and a half years.

She said part of the problem is that it's in between food drive seasons, it's the hot days of summer, people are on vacations, and folks don't think as much about giving to the food bank.

Some families are seeing reductions in food stamps, or jobless benefits are running out. In addition, children are home for the summer and scouring the cupboards and fridge for quick meals.

Shewfelt doesn't like to turn to the public and plead for help, but when the situation is grim, she said there's no choice.

"We are in desperate need of food donations," she said. "Yesterday, there was nothing."

"We're doing everything we can to get awareness out there."

A quick trip around the food bank proves her point.

In one large cooler is a single gallon of milk and a carton of eggs. In another, some lettuce and carrots sit, but most shelves are vacant. In the pantry, many shelves stand empty. The front freezer for meat has just a few boxes of lunch meat, instead of chicken or beef.

"It's really hard to put together a meal with lunch meat," Shewfelt said.

The food bank on Industrial Loop relies heavily on commodities to fill food boxes and depends on grocery stores donations, too, for perishable items like dairy, fruit and vegetables.

What does come in, goes quickly out. Many leave disappointed and empty-handed.

"It kind of breaks your heart when they come in and there's nothing in the cooler and they've wasted their gas to get there, because we're not on a bus route," Shewfelt said.

The food bank faces its own challenges.

A large walk-in freezer broke down and must be replaced, and the building, which they've been using since 1997, desperately needs a remodel to increase efficiency, storage space and safety. Air conditioning, provided now by a single standing unit, needs to be installed to keep the warehouse cool and extend the life of the donated food.

Shewfelt said they need $60,000 for the renovation, freezer and air conditioning, and have about $30,000 raised so far through grants and project awards from civic groups and businesses. To meet those requirements, that money must be used only on the project-specific items.

She's hoping the renovation begins before Thanksgiving.

"It's going to serve us well into the future," she said.

Sherry Wallis, Post Falls Food Bank executive director, called the need for food donations "incredibly high."

"This is my third summer at the food bank and I've not before experienced what we are currently experiencing," she said. "The need has continued through this year and we have virtually exhausted our inventory of non-perishable goods, except what we are gathering for Thanksgiving which is only four short months away."

Wallis said the food bank is averaging 60 new households registering per month.

"Many of them are either underemployed or have exhausted unemployment benefits," she said. "We are serving multi-generations in households, and unrelated people sharing houses/apartments to keep a roof over their heads."

Leina Moore of Hayden said the Community Action Partnership food bank has been a huge help to her family.

With children ages 3 and 6 at home, she travels to the food bank weekly looking for fruit, vegetables and bread.

The pickings, lately, have been slim.

"I got some carrots this time, but it's been really hard," Moore said Thursday morning.

The food bank, 4144 W. Industrial Loop, is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Folks are welcome to drop off food or cash donations.

Info: 770-3018

Staff writer Brian Walker contributed to this report.

Traci McGarry, joined by 5-year-old son Thayn, stopped by the food bank on Thursday. She said a little bit goes a long way, so she was glad to find a few veggies to take home.

She encouraged anyone with a garden to donate their extras to the food bank.

"I can't grow any of this stuff on my own," she said.

George Crossman has survived tough times before.

"It's real hard," he said, when asked how he was getting by. "Everything is going downhill. I've spent more money this month than I have any other month, and I still ain't got my bills paid."

His tractor recently broke down, so he had to charge the repairs, and he had gallstone surgery, too.

"I'm just barely getting back on my feet again. Everything's been going downhill instead of coming up," he said, mustering a smile.

He and Ada, his wife of 49 years, would rather donate, as they have in the past, than receive from the food bank.

"About the only thing we've been able to donate is the bags and stuff. We get a lot of them, we bring them in," he said.

Carolyn Shewfelt, the Community Action Partnership food bank program manager, explains how cuts to finances for other food programs and clients' benefits have had a detrimental effect on the food bank's supply.

 

The shelves for common staples of the food bank liked dried potatoes, tuna and rice are bare due to the decrease in donations and increase in need.

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