Feeding the 5,000: Food Ministries Adapting to Economic Downturn

Unemployment is on everyone’s mind these days. The effects of joblessness on families and communities can be grave. Church-based ministries have been there to help in times of need, especially when it comes to food. But as unemployment numbers rise, more and more ministries across the nation are changing their approach to meet the growing population in their communities that need food.

Beverly Howard, executive director of Loaves & Fishes in Charlotte, N.C., told The Christian Post Friday that the economy had definitely affected her organization.

“Giving is down, food drives are down, and the need is up,” she said.

Loaves & Fishes provides groceries to individuals and families in short-term crisis through a network of 19 food pantries in Charlotte's Mecklenburg County.

This year, especially, they feel the economic strain because unemployment in Mecklenburg County is higher than the national average. Howard said you can see the direct impact of the economy by looking at the money spent on groceries within the organization. In September of last year, Loaves & Fishes spent $48,000 in food purchases. This year, in September, the cost almost doubled with expenses coming to $83,000.

Loaves & Fishes works with local churches and recently opened a new pantry to meet more needs. They are also looking at converting their operations to a “client choice” method. Howard said this model has proven to save money, wastes less food and lets clients choose what they want. But for now, Howard said, they are going to have to “do more of the same, with less resources.”

Delilah Roseborough, community development coordinator for Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, echoed Howard’s story. Her organization has warehouses that supply food and groceries to agencies and churches in Charlotte. She said, this year, they have seen “an increase in people who are in need.” A year ago the effects were less apparent, but now “donations are down, it’s an effort to get people to do fun drives,” Roseborough said.

Charlotte isn’t the only place where food ministries are struggling. Farther north, in Gloucester, Va., the Bread For Life Community Food Pantry is working hard to provide for those in the area. The food pantry gives families a bag of bread, produce, meat and, what Executive Director Bob Quinzel calls a “bag du jour.” The bag contains non-perishable items, like pasta or cereal.

As unemployment rates continue rising, Quinzel said he is seeing the numbers go up at the food pantry. A year ago during a week in October they served 66 families, on the same week a year later, they served 187 families.

Further south, in Georgia, One Harvest Food Ministries is filling the empty space Angel Food Ministries left behind. It is set to begin operations in the southeast this month, and is looking to expand nationwide by spring 2012. Vice President of Sales and Marketing Doug Metcalfe said Friday there is definitely a place for food pantries in society, and especially in this time of economic downturn. But he also said food vendors don’t have the surplus of food they used to.

“Food pantries used to be able to get 1000 pounds of food per month, [but now] it’s not out there, they are having to figure out what to do,” said Metcalfe.

He said his organization is trying to adapt to the changing economy, and said in a poverty culture, “people operate in the here and now.” When they get their $300 unemployment check, they have to get something almost immediately. “We’ve had to adapt our model to take orders from a week out,” he said, which means filling food orders much quicker than before. One Harvest has also brought up the quality of their food and puts more protein items in the boxes they send out.

Metcalfe said One Harvest is looking at their operation as a ministry. Rather than just giving a church a box of food, we’re “training churches to make it a part of their DNA to be more of a service to their community.” He said for churches and ministries to have a big impact in any economic situation, it’s about recognizing they don’t just need a food program, they need a way to serve their community.”

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