The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


December 3, 2013

Food banks face cold, hard truth

JOHNSTOWN — The word December doesn’t conjure up mental images of Christmas presents, worship services and huge family feasts for everyone. For far too many, the month is about bitter cold, unanswered prayers for a better situation and serious questions about where to find the next meal.

Recent cuts to the food stamp benefits program have made it even more difficult for many. Cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, affected about 1.8 million people in Pennsylvania, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.

Those cuts could cost a household of three about $29 a month. That’s a lot for a single mother trying to feed two hungry children.

Cambria County has 22,566 – or 15.7 percent of its population – receiving SNAP benefits while Somerset County has 9,876 – 12.7 percent – getting the aid.

Charities are being counted on to fill the void left by the recent cuts, but even that has been a struggle of late. A recent story by CNHI’s John Finnerty found that the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank has seen a 10 percent increase in requests for help from last year, which saw record-setting numbers.

 The news is even worse closer to home.

Jim Sestrich, director of the Food for Families distribution center run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Johnstown, told Finnerty that staff hours have been slashed by 30 percent.

“The shelves are pretty much empty right now,” Sestrich said just before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The program helps to feed about 1,500 people per week by providing meals to 30 to 40 pantries and agencies in Cambria and Somerset counties. But it’s getting harder and harder for Food for Families to meet the need.

“Tons of people are dipping into the well,” Sestrich said. “Our private donations are down 50 percent” from last year.

That’s discouraging news, as is Sestrich’s revelation that even corporate donations are down this year.

We urge readers who can do so to reach out to Food for Families and similar organizations and see how they can help. A small monetary donation can quickly be turned into nourishing meals that will make a huge difference for needy individuals and families this holiday season.

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