Food pantry faces crushing need after food stamps, jobless benef - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Food pantry faces crushing need after food stamps, jobless benefits cuts

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – Food pantries have become more of a safety net for people than ever before.

Recent cuts to the federal food program have left them facing a crushing need, and now slashes to other benefits could make the need go even higher.

Recent cuts to the federal food program have left them facing a crushing need, and now slashes to other benefits could make the need climb even higher.

On top of the food stamp cuts, more than a million people are set to lose their unemployment benefits starting Saturday. Without these lifelines, food pantries like Batesville Help & Hope plan to extend a helping hand to even more people in need.

"[The need] is just unbelievable," said Carolyn Wilson, food director of Help & Hope.

Wilson said supplies do not last as long as they used to.  That's because since the summer, the number of families that the food pantry serves has steadily grown every month.

"In June we served 956 [families]," Wilson said. "In October, we went up to 1,248, and in November we were at 1,251."

She expects those numbers to keep climbing even higher and blames the increase on a few factors. First came a $5 billion cut in early November to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. About 1.3 million people are now set to lose their jobless benefits this weekend, and there are even proposals to cut aid to military retirees' pension funds.

"It's just a steady increase," Wilson said about the need, "and we fell it will be a continued increase."

Help & Hope currently hands out boxes of food three times a week. Wilson said she used to see the longest lines form at the beginning of the month when more than 200 people at a time would pick up food, but now that is how many people come every time the doors open.

"The end of the month was a very slow time, and we could relax and get some things done," Wilson said. "It's not like that anymore."

Wilson said the food pantry has somehow been able to meet the growing amount of need well. The Arkansas Foodbank has not only delivered additional shipments of commodities provided by the federal government, but there have also been a steady stream of donations from the community and from local grocery stores.

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