LORAIN — The We Care We Share Ministries food pantry was about to close Thursday, but there were still people in line.
Bill Hurley, ministry president, told a volunteer to keep the door open for the twice weekly farmers market until everyone was served.
“We don’t turn people away,” Hurley said.
But that could change soon.
With demand growing and food donations down, Hurley said the cash-strapped pantry is about a month from closing.
“I just don’t know what to do,” Hurley said. “I worry every day and night.”
The pantry is one of 64 in Lorain County served by the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, which also serves another 44 pantries in Crawford, Erie and Huron counties. Distributions to Second Harvest through the Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Food Assistance Program were down 50 percent — about 400,000 pounds — between April and July compared with April and July of last year, according to Juliana Chase-Morefield, Second Harvest executive director.
She estimated that Second Harvest will receive between 1.5 million and
2 million pounds less by the end of the group’s fiscal year on March 31 than in the previous year. We Care We Share received 438 pounds of food in its last donation from Second Harvest on Tuesday, compared with about 3,000 pounds in May, forcing the group to buy food at a much higher cost at supermarkets.
Meanwhile, demand at food pantries served by Second Harvest is up 22 percent between the start of the year through May, and federal stimulus money that bolstered food banks expired in the fall. Chase-Morefield — whose group also receives about 28 percent of its donations from local supermarkets or individuals — said federal funding is back to 2008 levels despite rising food prices.
“It’s the worst possible scenario,” Chase-Morefield said. “The demand just continues to rise and rise and there’s just not enough food. We’ve known for a long time that we just aren’t able to source enough food for the demand.”
Chase-Morefield said at least four pantries her group serves besides We Care We Share are in danger of closing.
“This is really heartbreaking for us,” she said.
Chase-Morefield said she understands austerity advocates are concerned about the debt, but said the budget shouldn’t be balanced on the backs of the poor.
“People were getting fed and now it means that people are not getting fed,” she said. “I would hope the poorest among us are not forgotten.”
Due to its small size, the 1,200-square-foot We Care We Share pantry at 1701 E. 29th St. could be easy to be forget. Since it was formed by Amherst Church of Christ members in 2007, the all-volunteer, nonprofit group has operated on a shoestring budget. It receives most of its $17,000 annual budget from the church and has had to make it stretch to meet skyrocketing demand.
The pantry served 10,473 people in its first full year in 2008. The number served more than doubled to 21,196 in 2009, the year the Great Recession officially ended.
The pantry served nearly 25,000 people last year and had served about 1,600 more people through July than it had last year, Hurley said. He estimated an increase of about 4,000 more people served by year’s end if the pantry can keep its doors open.
Clients on Thursday included Lorain resident Monisha Williams, who stood in line with her six children, ages 1 to 15. Williams, a 33-year-old nursing assistant, said it’s been tough to make ends meet since she went on disability two years ago. Williams said that if the pantry closes, it would force her to choose between not paying bills or taking out a payday loan and getting into debt.
If the pantry closes, “a lot of people are going to suffer,” Williams said.
Hurley said he’d be grateful if someone would donate money to keep the pantry going, but he said what’s really needed is a long-term solution. He hopes someone with a background in nonprofit work and receiving grants will volunteer to help.
“If we close up we just go back home,” Hurley said. “It’s easier for us than those we serve.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or email@example.com.