Food pantries brace for jump in requests after federal cuts

By Steve Wideman | For The Compass | November 6, 2013

APPLETON — Food pantries in the Diocese of Green Bay are bracing for a jump in demand after the federal government on Friday slashed benefits to the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Heidi Trembinski, a member of St. Norbert College’s alumni relations staff, helps sort food and personal care items at the Paul’s Pantry warehouse in Green Bay in 2012. Food pantries around the diocese are bracing for a jump in demand after the federal government cut benefits to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. (File Photo By Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Heidi Trembinski, a member of St. Norbert College’s alumni relations staff, helps sort food and personal care items at the Paul’s Pantry warehouse in Green Bay in 2012. Food pantries around the diocese are bracing for a jump in demand after the federal government cut benefits to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. (File Photo By Sam Lucero | The Compass)

The average family of four is expected to see a reduction of $36 a month, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Maximum monthly benefits for a family of four drop from $668 to $632.

That means a family of four has approximately $7 to spend per meal, or about $1.70 per person, which is less than a hamburger and small drink at most fast food restaurants.

For a single adult, monthly benefits fall from $200 to $189.

The current $5 billion in cuts, which is actually an elimination of a temporary boost by the Obama Administration in SNAP to deal with the recession, could be just the first cut of food stamp benefits as Congress is debating an additional $4 to $40 billion in cuts annually as part of the federal farm bill.

The number of Americans getting food stamps has increased from 32 million in January of 2009 to 48 million this year, according to government figures.

“The number of people getting groceries at our pantry has increased a lot. Our food reserves are getting lower. I have no way of correlating the increase in demand to the food stamp cuts, but the timeline of it seems to match,” said Joe Geniesse, executive director of Father Carr’s Place 2B in Oshkosh.

The St. Martin de Porres Food Bank at Father Carr’s serves 170 families on a weekly basis and goes through more than $1,000 worth of food daily for food bank and dining room programs, Geniesse said.

Geniesse said he has put the word out about the SNAP cuts to area organizations that regularly contribute to Father Carr’s.

“People are responding with cash donations. Several organizations are collecting food including several schools, students at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Lourdes Academy,” Geniesse said.

Paul’s Pantry in Green Bay handles nearly 20,000 pounds of food each day and may be looking for more donations to deal with higher demand due to the cuts in the food stamp program, said Angie Allard, the pantry manager.

“I heard comments from people who come to the pantry already that they will have to come down here more often because they are getting their food stamps cut,” Allard said.

Paul’s Pantry currently serves more than 4,500 families and Allard expects that number to climb due to the food stamp program cuts.

Allard said her telephone is constantly ringing with calls from people on the food stamp program asking about using the food pantry.

“People calling are very upset because they rely on food stamps,” Allard said.

The cuts come at a time when the usual bounty of fresh produce from local growers is ending due to the onslaught of winter weather.

“We are definitely looking for more donations (to deal with increases in recipients due to the food stamp cuts),” Allard said.

It’s too early to gauge the impact of the cuts on the St. Joseph Food Program in Menasha, “but we will likely be seeing an increase in demand,” said Monica Clare, the program’s executive director.

“When that course of food is taken away we will get more demand. The thing is food is a constant need. It will not go away,” Clare said.

St. Joseph Food Program serves about 1,000 families per day.

Clare said people should look to take advantage of reduced or free lunch programs at school that would help to increase the funds available for dinners and other meals prepared at home.

In addition, Clare said the federal government, instead of a blanket cut in the food stamp program, should look to limit the types of things eligible to be purchased with food stamps.

“If they (government) would not let junk food like potato chips and pop on the list of thing you can buy people could use their food stamp dollars to purchase more nutritional foods,” Clare said.

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