By NICOLE GUGINO
OBSERVER Assistant News Editor
More than one in six Americans continue report an inability to afford enough food. Last year, Chautauqua County Rural Ministry provided 189,648 meals through its emergency food pantry, an increase of 59,433 meals from 2011.
OBSERVER Photo by Matt Panebianco
As Easter approaches, more people are expected to seek assistance from Rural Ministry.
Locally, the CCRM focuses on food security for all families. Celebrating nearly five decades of its presence in the Dunkirk community, CCRM currently operates 12 programs.
In 1979, CCRM opened an emergency food pantry to assist families having a hard time making ends meet throughout the month.
Starting out as a five-day-a-week operation, the need has increased to providing emergency food assistance to clients 24/7.
In 1999, CCRM was the first emergency food relief organization to offer "client choice." Individuals and families who are unable to secure enough food for the month, come to CCRM offices for food assistance.
"Each time someone requests support from our agency, a needs assessment is conducted by one of the agency staff. This provides a clear picture of the family's need and how CCRM can meet that unmet need," CCRM Executive Director Kathleen G. Peterson said.
Peterson said there is a consistent need each month and sees a number of new people every month.
"There is a regular need throughout the year, 15 percent are faces we have never seen before, people who are using our services for the first time," she added.
Each holiday season, CCRM receives tons of food donations to help out with the Thanksgiving and Christmas Program. The majority of the food is used during the months of November and December. When the New Year arrives, the emergency food pantry is low on food to assist families in need. Last year, there was a considerable increase in households requesting holiday assistance.
"It's tough times for many in our community. Families struggle paying their rent and utilities and cut back on food supplies. Three thousand one hundred and twelve households utilized the emergency food pantry, consisting of 7,021 individuals. This has had a significant impact on our food supplies. As fast as we stock the pantry, more food has to be put on the shelves," Peterson said.
CCRM also offers an Easter meal at the Friendly Kitchen and is accepting donations now. Peterson said they try to serve a traditional meal of ham and potatoes and dessert but have yet to receive any donations for the meal.
Peterson said CCRM offers many services to those needing assistance including advocacy, cooking and nutrition classes and budget counseling but the emergency food pantry is the most utilized.
"We work on meeting the unmet need and the emergency need and then from there we just see where the other issues are in their family and try to help," she said.
According to Hunger Action Network for New York State, millions of Americans continued in 2012 to struggle to afford enough food, according to new, up-to-date food hardship data from the Food Research and Action Center. More than one in six Americans (18.2 percent) said in 2012 that there had been times over the past 12 months that they didn't have enough money to buy food that they or their families needed.
"Hunger continues to be a major problem in our local communities and nationwide," Mark Dunlea, executive director of HANNYS, said. "Instead of trying to cut funding and eligibility for food stamps, Congress needs to raise benefits to feed a family for the entire month and make it easier for families to apply."
Dunlea added that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers need to raise the state minimum wage as part of the budget in order to raise the income of working families and stimulate the economy. A recent statewide survey by Hunger Action found that more than a third of the guests at emergency food programs had a job but make too little to support their households.
The 18.2 percent national rate in 2012 was virtually unchanged from the rates in 2009, 2010, and 2011, as families continued to struggle with under- and unemployment, low wages and inadequate government supports. The report found that food hardship rates remain too high, and that no corner of the country is immune from this struggle.
Peterson said the pantry is always in need of nonperishable food items like pasta, sauce, vegetables, tuna, fruit, macaroni and cheese and soup.
To donate or if you would like to hold a canned food drive to benefit the needy, call CCRM offices at 366-1787.
CCRM is a United Way of Northern Chautauqua County partner and also receives funding from NYSDOH HPNAP, Division of Nutrition.