Government shutdown shifts burden to food pantries

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

With the future of thosesecurity nets in question, the burden of helping people in need may fall uponnonprofit 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 massivelayoffs in Batesville driven up the need for their services, but the governmentshutdown 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 thevolunteers fill up boxes of food for hundreds of local families in need.

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

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

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

The government shutdown has put the USDA's commoditiesprogram in question. That uncertainty comes as Help & Hope faces whatWilson 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 thatbegan this month at two plants in Batesville. Zila, Inc., a dental equipmentmanufacturer, 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 byOctober 25, displacing approximately 400 employees.

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

Wilson and her family feel frustrated, too. Her husbandworks for the FAA, but the federal agency has placed him on furlough. She saysthey'll be okay as long as his military benefits and her Social Security checkkeep 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 lastthrough the end of the year, but she's afraid that the volunteers may have togive out fewer cans of food if there are no more shipments.

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

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

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