Government shutdown shifts burden to food pantries - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Government shutdown shifts burden to food pantries

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BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – As the partial shutdown of the federal government stretches into its ninth day, people are growing more concerned about how much longer entitlement programs, like veteran's benefits and Social Security, will stay funded.

With the future of those security nets in question, the burden of helping people in need may fall upon nonprofit organizations, like food pantries.

Batesville Help & Hope, a food pantry in Independence County, is already bracing for the impact. Volunteers there say not only have massive layoffs in Batesville driven up the need for their services, but the government shutdown could as well if it lasts much longer.

Carolyn Wilson and the other volunteers at Batesville Help & Hope are building up a stockpile of commodities. These items help the volunteers fill up boxes of food for hundreds of local families in need.

"If we have to give them one less can," Wilson said, "we'll have to do that."

Each month, the food pantry gets a truck load of everything from spinach to fruit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA. This month's delivery came as usual, but Wilson is unsure if she'll get another in November.

"We'll just have to wait and see what we get next month," she said, shrugging.

The government shutdown has put the USDA's commodities program in question. That uncertainty comes as Help & Hope faces what Wilson calls an overwhelming need.

"Usually we help about 1,100 [families each month]," she said, "but right now we are doing 1,200."

Wilson contributes that increase partly to the layoffs that began this month at two plants in Batesville. Zila, Inc., a dental equipment manufacturer, announced plans to cut between 60 and 80 jobs starting October 1. Pilgrim's Pride also intends to shutter one of its plants in Batesville by October 25, displacing approximately 400 employees.

Wilson fears the number of people the food pantry serves could climb even higher if any local veterans or elderly people are unable to collect their benefits because of the shutdown.

Wilson and her family feel frustrated, too. Her husband works for the FAA, but the federal agency has placed him on furlough. She says they'll be okay as long as his military benefits and her Social Security check keep coming.

"We have to laugh about it," she said, "because if we don't, it can be very, very depressing."

Wilson says the food pantry has enough commodities to last through the end of the year, but she's afraid that the volunteers may have to give out fewer cans of food if there are no more shipments.

"That depresses me," she said, "because I've been here almost 21 years, and we've never been in a shape like this."

 She's confident that the community will also step up and donate food items or money to help the food pantry meet the growing need. To find out what Help & Hope needs most right now, call the food pantry at 870-793-9181.

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