Food bank cuts allocations as demand for assistance rises

BARBARA COTTER Updated: February 2, 2010 at 12:00 am • Published: February 2, 2010

Faced with a shortage of food donations, Care and Share, the food bank for southern Colorado, is cutting its allocations to 67 food pantries and hunger relief organizations in El Paso County by 33 percent.

The news comes at a time when local social service agencies and nonprofits are seeing continued increase in demand for food assistance. And two recent reports show more families statewide are struggling to put food on the table.

“That is frustrating because it means that as those organizations are seeing an increase in the number of people coming through their doors, they’ll have to give them a little less food,” said Melissa Marts, Care and Share’s director for partner agency development.

Care and Share is planning a series of drives to boost its food supply by 170,000 pounds by October, with hopes of restoring the allocations.

Marts said Care and Share’s partner agencies all reported at least a 40 percent increase in demand for food assistance last year. That’s just one of hundreds of sobering statistics on hunger issued in recent days.

One of the more dramatic: 22.1 percent of Colorado families with children under 18 years old said there were times in the last two years when they did not have enough money to buy food, according to the results of a Gallup survey released last week by the Washington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center.

“One in four-and-a-half households are reporting food hardships,” said Kathy Underhill, executive director of the Colorado Coalition to End Hunger. “That’s staggering — absolutely staggering.”

But Colorado is not alone, and it’s far from the worst on the “food hardship” list. In Washington, D.C., 40.6 percent of families with children under 18 said they had run out of money to buy food. Mississippi was No. 2 on the list with 33.8 percent.

Overall, Colorado came in 30th on the list in 2009, with 17.1 percent of those surveyed saying they had problems buying food. That was a slight improvement from 2008, when the state ranked 27th.

But another survey, released Tuesday and conducted by Care and Share and four other Feeding America affiliates in the state, indicates more Coloradans have had to cut back on what they eat or even miss a meal.

“Some of the most disturbing findings are around Colorado’s children going without food,” said Underhill, whose agency released the results. She noted that 17 percent of Feeding America clients with children reported that their kids had skipped meals in the past 12 months because they couldn’t buy food.

Underhill is dismayed that Coloradans in need aren’t taking advantage of federal nutrition programs such as food stamps, a problem she blames on a cumbersome application form and state computer problems. A federal study showed that Colorado ranked 51st in Food Assistance Program participation among the states and U.S. territories.

But Arturo Serrano of the El Paso County Department of Human Services said those in need of federal food assistance locally seem to take advantage of it. The county had about 14,000 food assistance cases at the beginning of 2008; at the end of 2009, it had soared to 23,000 cases, and he said there’s been a spike in applications in the last two weeks.

“I would say everyone pretty much in some regards knows about the program,” said Serrano, manager of food assistance family Medicaid programs at DHS.

Chew on this
Some statistics on hunger in Colorado and El Paso County:
• 18.1 percent of Coloradans surveyed reported running out of money to buy food in 2008. That improved to 17.1 percent in 2009.
• In a two-year period ending in 2009, 14.5 percent of households without children had a “food hardship,” compared with 22.1 percent of households with children under 18.
• In the Fifth Congressional District, which includes El Paso County, 15 percent of those surveyed had a food hardship, the third lowest of the state’s seven districts.
• 52 percent of Colorado households receiving food from a pantry include one or more working adults.
• The El Paso County Department of Human Services has 23,000 cases, or 54,000 people, on food assistance. An estimated 60 to 70 percent of the cases include children.
• In December 2009, DHS issues $7.8 million in federal food assistance in the county.
• The Marian House soup kitchen served about 5,000 meals to children two years ago; this past fiscal year, it grew to about 10,000.
Sources: El Paso County Department of Human Services; Food Research and Action Center; Colorado Coalition to End Hunger, Catholic Charities

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