CFP…in the News

June 4, 2008

As struggling South Floridians turn to food banks for help, the cupboards are running bare

|South Florida Sun-Sentinel
May 31, 2008

Food banks and feeding programs such as Meals on Wheels are seeing more people seeking help. At the same time, donations are declining and they face the same economic factors that are sending more hungry people to their doors.

Charitable food pantries are handing out smaller take-home food boxes. Home-delivered meal services for homebound seniors are losing volunteer drivers, overwhelmed by high fuel prices. Palm Beach County‘s Meals on Wheels program is taking rice — which rose in price more than 12 percent over the past year — off its menu soon and has substituted a dairy drink for milk with the breakfast boxes.

Meanwhile, the lines for groceries and hot meals increasingly include even middle-class families, turning to charity for the first time after losing a job or falling behind on their mortgage payments.

Sister Jean Peter Wilders and her friend, Sister Chris-St. John Daniel, operate a food pantry and hot meal program out of their Household of Faith “convent,” a Lake Worth residential home. They are trying to feed hungry families, or the newly jobless, that say other feeding programs turned them down because they were out of groceries.

“We have people coming here sobbing. We’ve never seen it this bad,” Wilders said.

Concerned about increasing requests and the need to stretch donations further, the sisters now give groceries every other week, rather than weekly, to each family.

On a recent morning, Violet Ortiz, 61, made her first visit to the Household of Faith’s pantry. The sisters filled her cardboard box with salad dressing, canned vegetables and cereal — food for Ortiz, her daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend, and her 89-year-old father, all living together to make ends meet.

Ortiz, a widow, lost her job as a church secretary in October when the congregation had to cut expenses. At the church, Ortiz sometimes quietly referred financially strapped parishioners to the sisters’ pantry.

Now she has to seek help there herself.

“This has been a disastrous time for us,” Ortiz said.

The Cooperative Feeding Program in Fort Lauderdale also is seeing an increase in demand, as well as “people who are very different from the ones we served before,” said Director Marti Forman. “They are more nicely dressed, and are coming in nicer cars. Everyone has a different story, but they all have been hit by hard times.”

The program is serving daily hot meals to 500 to 560 people, compared with 300 to 400 a year ago, plus gives out 130 boxes of groceries daily. But Forman said Cooperative Feeding has reduced the box size, as the program is adding about 200 to 250 new mouths to feed each month.

New federal statistics show food prices in South Florida were up 7.2 percent in April over the previous year, the largest annual increase in the nation. April also saw the biggest month-to-month increase in food prices in 18 years.

Staples such as rice, bread and dairy products have been hit by double digit increases.

So the Meals on Wheels program that serves 1,426 homebound Palm Beach County seniors from Lake Worth to the county line has agreed its food provider, locked into a contract until next year, can eliminate rice from its dinners and use only seasonal fresh fruit.

The Palm Beach County Division of Senior Services expects the price of the 918 daily meals served at hot lunch sites at senior centers and community centers to rise from $3.10 to about $5 per unit next year. Service coordinator Tricia McCullough said attendance at those sites has been declining: “With gas prices going up, people can’t afford to drive there,” she said.

Fuel prices also are hurting Meals on Wheels in Broward County which, unlike in Palm Beach County, depends on volunteers to deliver to about 1,000 seniors — saving the agency about $204,000 in labor costs alone. The number of volunteers has dropped from about 250 to 197, said program services director Marlene Gray, as it becomes more expensive to fill their gas tanks.

Cooperative Feeding and Household of Faith are among the 800 agencies getting food through Daily Bread Food Bank, a massive South Florida collection agency that collects commodities from large corporate and government donors. Daily Bread, which must truck in most of its food from farmers or manufacturers in Georgia or the Midwest, has seen its food transportation costs doubling, with diesel fuel more than $4 a gallon.

At the same time, private donations are down.

“Families who donated food now are trying to fill their own cupboards,” said Phil Dickey, Daily Bread’s director of development. Large convention caterers also are watching their waste, he said, so there are fewer leftovers to give away.

Staff Writer Diane Lade can be reached at dlade@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4295 or 561-243-6618.

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One Response to “CFP…in the News”


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