Food Assistance Reaches Record Levels
Posted on Thursday, September 16th, 2010
Volunteers Rosa Jackson (left), Ella Toles, and Lula Finch filled and distributed over 300 food packages on a typical Tuesday at the hospital pantry. More volunteers are needed.
These are tough times for many families in Love County.
In the last year, the number of households getting food assistance has increased nearly every month, setting all-time records for usage of food stamps and charitable “grocery relief.”
At the food pantry operated by co-workers of Mercy Health/Love County Hospital, Clinic, and EMS in Marietta, a record 7,716 food packages were given out in the first six months of 2010.
June set a single month record of 1,495 packages.
The pantry is helping supplement the food needs of an average 1,300 households per month in 2010, compared to 1,100 in 2009, 1,000 in 2008, and 900 in 2007, said Ann Langston, the hospital’s pantry representative.
At the Department of Human Services office in Love County, 1,630 persons living in 700 qualifying households are currently receiving food stamps, compared to 1,210 persons in 500 homes at this time last year.
The value of food stamps currently is $126.61 per person per month, or about $4.22 per day, according to Steve Longest, DHS family services supervisor.
Food stamps are exchanged for a variety of meal-preparation food items at the grocery store.
People who have not needed food assistance before are appearing weekly, workers say.
Among them are people who have been laid off, often from more than one job, grandparents caring for grandchildren (and grown children), single parents, and workers coping with unexpected medical costs or car repairs.
Higher food, utility, and medication costs are forcing others, such as seniors on fixed incomes, to shift money from one pot to the other to make ends meet.
At the food pantry in August, a 30-year old mother of three young children said she had been referred by her doctor at the clinic. “They learned I was out of work. I’ve been here three times. It’s a lot of help.”
A few minutes later, a 39-year-old divorced mother of a teenager and pre-schooler registered at the pantry for the first time. She described being laid off three times within two years.
“I just now qualified for food stamps. I get $97 a week in unemployment and $260 in child support. My mother may move in to try to help me,” she said.
The food package that day included several cans of apple sauce and peas, packaged beef pasta, chicken ramen noodles, a loaf of bread, a package of hot dog buns, energy bars, Oreo cookies, saltine crackers, and four large frozen chicken fried steak patties.
“This will be a food stretcher,” the recipient said. “I am very appreciative.”
Shortly, an elderly woman arrived with her young granddaughter in tow. “This package supplements what I can do, especially when my two grandchildren are living with me. It is a lifesaver in a lot of ways. God bless you,” she added as she left.”
With need comes the opportunity to serve for those willing to give food, time, or money.
The pantry has a continuous food drive underway, organizers say. Donations of canned and packaged foods may be dropped off at the hospital any time.
Cash contributions are accepted at the business office or through the hospital pantry account at BancFirst, 105 SW 2.
The pantry uses the contributions to purchase steeply discounted bulk food items from its licenser, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Other foodstuffs come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Currently, a record 8,000 pounds of food arrive by truck every two weeks and are unloaded by hospital workers and volunteers.
Food packages are filled and distributed to clients from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays.
Due to demand, additional pantry volunteers are needed, especially those able to do moderate lifting of canned goods from pallets to supply bins.
Clients receive one food package per family per week, consisting of about one dozen items of fresh, frozen, canned, and packaged foods.
Volunteer drivers make delivery to homebound clients.
Emergency food packages are available at the nurses’ station in the hospital 24 hours per day.
Mercy Health/Love County co-workers organized the pantry in 2001 in a linen closet of the hospital. They brought the food themselves to give to patients they found choosing between food and medicine.
The Love County Health Center Foundation saw to the construction of the pantry building the following year. Over time, freezers and a walk-in refrigerator were added, expanding on the nutritious items that could be offered.
Food donations and cash contributions from the public have followed.
“The community support of the pantry has been outstanding. We are very appreciative of the food drives, individual gifts, and volunteers,” said Richard Barker, hospital administrator.
A benefit golf tournament is being organized by the Falconhead Ladies Golf Association for October 29. Participants will contribute canned goods and cash contributions as part of their entry fee.