A full box of food that a food pantry volunteer loads into the minivan of Patricia Chrisp isn’t for Patricia Chrisp. It’s for a man she knows through a friend from her work, a 67-year-old on a fixed income who has suffered two strokes and cannot drive to pick up the food himself.
It was just one of many examples at the Poplar Springs Church food pantry, where volunteers turned out Tuesday to take care of the monthly line that arrives hoping for a couple weeks worth of food for their families.
While macro-level figures say the economy has improved, Poplar Springs pastor Perry Scott said the need has not waned and has even increased, including among groups outside their more traditional clientele.
“Since I’ve been here, three years now, the faces are getting a lot younger because of the economy,” Scott said. “When I started, we were doing like 75 boxes (in a week), and we’re double that now.”
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Though the unemployment figure in the U.S. has fallen to 6.3 percent, a low since 2008, that figure does not take into account discouraged workers who have given up looking for a job. The workforce participation rate of 62.8 percent (share of working age population employed or seeking a job) represents the lowest rate since 1978.
Poplar Springs, located off Old Stage Road just west of Garner, served 70,000 people last year according to the pantry’s director Katherine Branch. The lifelong Garner resident said need this year has been just as great, with about 4,000 people including children served in April.
She also noted a changing demographic seeking help, and that they keep coming from more varied places. She says they range from older people on fixed incomes who tell her they must decide between medicine and food to younger families and the unemployed, underemployed or working poor that are down on their luck. She called the stories heartbreaking.
“More people are hungry. More people need food. I think it’s because of the economy,” Branch said. “This is a predominantly black church, and my clients used to be predominantly black. Not anymore, I’m serving everybody, black, white, red, yellow, young, old, sick, well.”
The boxes packed high with fruits, vegetables, grains, some meats and some processed foods such as cereal flew off the tables. The first Tuesday of each month is the designated time to pick up food but it also operates as needed in an emergency for people.
The church has limited resources to address the broader problems with the economy and the shortage of jobs for the rolls of those unable to work. And though the government has programs, Branch said that she couldn’t keep food on the shelves as delays hampered North Carolina’s administrative delays in the federal food stamp program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reprimanded the state for the delays last winter noting over 6,000 waiting for more than three months to receive benefits after applying or re-certifying.
“This is just a stopgap measure,” Scott said. “The solution is going to have to be politicians making a decision on how to deal with this.”