Ranks Of Hungry Swell Across South Carolina

Maj. Bobby Lancaster, The Salvation Army’s Greenville area coordinator, says food goes out almost as fast as it come in at the food pantry. / HEIDI HEILBRUNN/Staff

One in four families with children didn’t have enough to eat, data show.

By Liv Osby

9:51 PM, Aug. 11, 2011

A recent spike in the number of families needing food has left the cupboards bare at the Salvation Army food pantry.

“It used to be 20 to 25 families coming in on a daily basis, but it’s now about 100 families per day,” said spokeswoman Pamela Garcia. “It’s going out as fast as we’re getting it in.”

More than one in four families with children in South Carolina — 28 percent — didn’t have enough to eat at some point during a 12-month period in 2009-2010, according to the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center.

The rate was 21 percent for households without children.

Ten of the 15 states with the highest rates of food insecurity were in the South.

With more than 1 million people hungry at some point, South Carolina ranks 13th nationally in food hardship, said Sue Berkowitz, director of South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center.

“Things are getting worse here and around the country,” she told GreenvilleOnline.com.

And that jibes with what area assistance agencies are reporting as the state unemployment rate ticked up to 10.5 percent in June from 10 percent in May.

“We are seeing an increase in the neighborhood of 25 percent in all our areas over last year,” said Keith Trout, executive director of United Ministries, which provides help with food, rent, utilities and education. “And that includes families with kids.”

He said half are first-timers, indicating a new demographic that has never sought help before as well as growth in the number of people living at or near the poverty level.

“The critical thing is more people are living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “And if two people are working and one lost a job, all of a sudden you can’t make ends meet.”

Last year, he said, the agency’s food pantry served nearly 7,000 people. And as demand grows, fewer people are able to give, he said.

Garcia said the dramatic increase includes mothers with babies and young children in families experiencing long-term unemployment or a recent job loss, as well as people who never thought they would be on the doorsteps of a nonprofit seeking help.“Being hungry these days doesn’t discriminate,” she said.

The spike in recent weeks may also be due in part to school letting out because children in the free or reduced-price lunch program may not have access to regular meals during the summer, Berkowitz said.

About half the 70,000 students in the Greenville County school district are enrolled in that program, spokesman Oby Lyles said.

“A lot of kids are getting at least two meals a day at school,” Berkowitz said. “And there are not enough summer feeding programs around the state.”

Harvest Hope Food Bank distributed 6.1 million pounds of food in the Greenville area last fiscal year — a 70 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, spokesman Skot Garrick said.

And Susan Douglas, executive director of Loaves and Fishes in Greenville, said there are twice as many groups applying for food to distribute to needy people as there were last year. And they are asking for more food.

“Particularly the emergency food pantries, which typically serve families with children,” she said, adding the agency is helping expand food banks in underserved areas, like Taylors and northern Greenville County.

Among them is Calvary Christian Fellowship, a congregation of 50 to 60 in Taylors. When it launched a food pantry a year ago, the church saw about 25 families a week. That’s grown to more than 100 families weekly now, pastor Hamp Sirmans said.

Aside from Loaves and Fishes, the church also gets food from area farmers who donate fresh produce, he said. The congregation supplements the groceries, too.

“A lot of people are out of work,” Sirmans said. “Low-income families are struggling the most. People who’ve been out of work for a long time. And a lot of elderly too.”

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