Economy
9:00 pm
Sun November 17, 2013

Food Banks Could Struggle to Fill Need in Wake of Food Stamp Cuts

Kathy Kovac of the Clemmons Food Pantry stands by boxes of food that will be distributed to needy families in Forsyth County.
Kathy Kovac of the Clemmons Food Pantry stands by boxes of food that will be distributed to needy families in Forsyth County.
Credit WFDD Photo by Paul Garber

The Clemmons Food Pantry began nine years ago as a Sunday school project. Now it’s an independent non-profit serving all of Forsyth County from a 1,000 square-foot storefront in Meadowbrook Mall.

Kathy Kovak has been a volunteer at the pantry since 2006.

“When I came, two to three of us would run a shift, and we were excited if we got 30 families in that night, or 30 people came through our door,” she said. “Three of us could interview them, pack the boxes and carry it out. Now, 12 to 15 people, all of us working two lines. We see somewhere between 65 and 85 families each night that we’re open.”

Kovak said the pantry is struggling to stay afloat. This year, demand has soared as the termination of some unemployment benefits went into effect and a computer glitch interrupted the food stamp system.

The pantry’s numbers almost doubled this August compared to last August, and over the last few months there’s been a 20 to 30 percent increase in new clients, many of them elderly. Already, the pantry has made reductions in the amount it gives each family it serves.

And now there’s another change that is likely to put even more pressure on the pantry. On Nov. 1, cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called SNAP, took effect. In North Carolina, the cuts will mean a reduction of about $166 million to the food stamps program. By the end of the month, many food stamp clients will run out of money for food and will look to agencies like the Clemmons pantry to help feed their families.

Kovak said she’s worried about not having enough food to meet that new demand.

“Honestly we don’t know exactly what to expect,” she said. “Everything that has happened as far as a setback in their benefits has been pretty impactful for us so far in the last three or four months. So we are just holding on to see what happens next, and do our best to try to feed these people.”

Does the pantry have the food if the demand increases?

“At the moment, no,” she said.

The SNAP reductions eliminate a boost to the program that was implemented four years ago as part of the 2009 Recovery Act.

Kovak said that if there’s a silver lining, it’s that the cuts will begin during the holiday season, when many people step up to help feed the hungry. The pantry will also benefit from holiday food drives, and is working with the Clemmons location of Ruby Tuesday to help raise money.

Paul Garber, WFDD News.

The Ruby Tuesday at 6412 Sessions Court in Clemmons will give the Clemmons Food Pantry 20 percent of purchases made on Nov. 17 and Dec. 15 as part of the restaurant chain's Community GiveBack Program.