Local food programs hit by cuts

LEWISTOWN – With the recent decrease in funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, more than 1.8 million Pennsylvania residents will experience a cut in food assistance equal to 21 meals per month for a family of four.

The concern then becomes, where do families and individuals in need make up for that loss? The answer is they turn to local food banks and pantries in the hopes of continuing to provide for themselves and their children, said Father David Zwifka, of Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard in Lewistown.

“Already most facilities are pretty well stretched, but with the cutback on food stamps, we anticipate the need to increase substantially,” Zwifka said. “Already the load is starting to pick up and we’ve had an increasing amount of working poor come to us for food.”

Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard currently serves 100 to 110 families, or 300 individuals, per month. What use to be a spending trip of $3,000 every six weeks to the food distributor has now become a trip every three weeks, Zwifka said.

“There’s a direct relation between S.N.A.P. benefits and the demand for our services,” Zwifka said. “When S.N.A.P. funds first come out in the beginning of the month, we’re not as busy, but toward the end of the month we get busier and busier.”

The same overall trend can be seen of the Breaking Bread Together event that St. Mark’s Episcopal Church hosts each month, Zwifka said.

“The amount in attendance at the free meal has been increasing steadily,” Zwifka said. “While some people come for fellowship, you do notice that a great number of them are in need for one reason or the other.”

Kathy Queitzsch, executive director of the Juniata County Food Pantry, anticipates the number of people coming to the Mifflintown pantry to at least double.

“Since the recession began we have double and tripled in numbers,” Queitzsch said. “I was hoping things were leveling off, but I’m afraid the cut in food stamps won’t affect us well.”

Just last month, the Juniata County Food Pantry installed a walk-in freezer and cooler to meet the demand of 300 families per month. But the pantry has already seen an increase of 50 clients since the beginning of the month, Queitzsch said.

“People around here have always been generous with food and monetary donations, but this is going to affect everyone,” Queitzsch said. “I’m very concerned, but at this time, the only thing we can do is pray.”

In an effort to help area residents cope with the change in benefits, Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard plans to offer financial workshops that show how to effectively manage S.N.A.P. money and better utilize the food they get from the cupboard, Zwifka said.

“Frequently people who are on assistance have difficultly managing money,” Zwifka said. “These workshops will help people learn how to stretch money and food as far as possible.”

The Scouting For Food event, set for 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, is set to benefit both the Juniata County Food Pantry and Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, as well as Shelter Services and The Salvation Army.

Residents are invited to place donations of non-perishable food items on their front porches for free pick-up during the scheduled time on Saturday. This event usually results in more than 7,000 donated items each year, said David Blehi, senior district executive of the Shawnee District.

On Nov. 23, area volunteers are also holding the sixth annual Save Thanksgiving Concert at the CJEMS building, in Mifflintown, to benefit the Juniata County Food Pantry. All proceeds go toward stocking the pantry for Thanksgiving meals.

For more information on donating time, money or food to Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, contact the St. Mark’s parish office at 248-8327. The cupboard is open from 9 a.m. to noon, every Tuesday through Thursday, and 3 to 6 p.m. every Friday.

For more information about donating to the Juniata County Food Pantry, call 436-9718 during open hours from 2 to 6 p.m., Monday or Wednesday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.