More people are seeking the free meals offered by Loaves and Fishes of Tompkins County, a community kitchen in Ithaca, than at any other time in recent memory, according to Rev. Christina Culver, executive director of the charity.
“We’ve already served 2,000 more meals in 2011 than we did in 2010,” Culver said. “In the past couple months, we’ve served at least three meals that have served over 200 people; I don’t think that’s happened in our entire history.”
Ron Poley, advocacy coordinator of Loaves and Fishes, noted that there has been an increase in families, not just individuals, that are requesting meals.
“We usually serve about 150 people a night and that number has risen over the past few years,” Poley said. “More families are coming for meals and more people want seconds.”
Statistics from the Tompkins County Department of Social Services indicate that the food stamp program has expanded 66.7 percent in the area since 2007. Yet Poley said that, despite the surge in food stamp usage, many families are struggling to find meals.
“Food stamps don’t go as far as they used to,” Poley said. “A lot of food prices have gone up.”
Members of Loaves and Fishes emphasized that charity work was essential to supplement government programs that have been cut or reduced at the state and local levels.
“Social services at all levels of government are understaffed and underfunded,” Poley said. “There are agencies that want to help but can’t because they don’t have the funds.”
Neil Oolie, who is a member of the board of directors of Loaves and Fishes, stressed that the charity does more than serve meals.
“There are a lot of people who have more problems than a lack of food,” Oolie said. “If someone comes in for dinner at 5:30 and needs shelter, everywhere else — DSS, Red Cross — is closed. We do the best we can to help.”
Original Author: Matthew Rosenspire