By Morgan Pilz, Staff Writer
(Jan. 24, 2019) As the debate on the partial government shutdown continues in Washington, one unintended consequence is that local food banks and pantries are increasingly in need of new supplies to meet the rising demands of those currently suffering from food insecurity.
Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. With around 800,000 furloughed employees suddenly not receiving pay, the government’s solution was to provide February’s supply of food stamps a month early.
According to Diakonia, a nonprofit homeless shelter and food bank in West Ocean City, this is actually causing more problems.
“The government shutdown is creating a situation where they are going to give people their food stamps ahead of time, but there’s no regulations for when they use the food stamps,” Allyson Church, president of the board of directors, said. “Normally, as an example, if they get $40 a month, they’re going to get $80 worth of food stamps at once for a longer period of time. So, if they don’t budget, they’re using the food stamps, then they’re going to run out of food and we’re going to need more food in our pantry in order to give food out.”
There are 85 federal workers affected by the shutdown in Worcester County, most of whom work for the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, or Homeland Security. Also notably affected is the Coast Guard, which continues to work without pay.
“We’re also part of the [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance] Program, which works with the food stamps,” Church said. “That’s how we’re being affected, and we’re trying to be proactive so that people don’t have to go without food … [and] that we have enough supplies for people.”
Diakonia is always in need of food for its pantry, Michelle D’Ascoli, food pantry coordinator, said.
“Don’t forget, we are a seasonal resort here,” D’Ascoli said. “So, while the resort is closed, many of these local people that are in need of food are seasonal workers. We see a higher rate of people coming in during the winter months and offseason, but during this food stamp situation they’ve double up already for this month, which leaves these people with no food stamps for next month.”
“We get over 300 calls a month … and a lot of it is for the food pantry,” Church said. “I think people believe these are people that don’t work, but most of these people are working, but they’re making a choice between buying their prescriptions [or] paying their electrical bills in the winter for heat, or eating.
“These people are out there working … but they’re having to make choices between [buying] food and something else, and what we’re trying to do is not put them in a position where they have to make that choice,” she added.
The public is encouraged to donate canned foods, rice, pasta, cereals, and other nonperishable items.
To donate to Diakonia, call 410-213-0923 or visit the headquarters on 12747 Old Bridge Road in West Ocean City.
Diakonia is not the only pantry in the area in dire need of food. At St. Paul’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church on Third Street in Ocean City, its soup kitchen and food pantry, Shepherd’s Crook Ministry, is also short on supplies.
“We’re aware that food stamps are not supposed to provide all the food for somebody for a month, they’re supposed to supplement the food needs,” Jane Ellis, director of the Shepherd’s Crook Ministry, said. “Even without a government shutdown, food stamps are hard to stretch. So, when you give them out early and they use them because they can’t take care of immediate food needs, they’re probably going to run out even [quicker] than they normally would.
“We’re usually seeing 25-30 people on Saturdays in the winter,” Ellis said. “Now, we have seen 75 people on Saturdays since the shutdown. We’re just absolutely swarming with people.”
Shepherd’s Crook is open four days a week from 10 a.m. to noon on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The pantry has received some donations, but with the growing demand and the prolonged shutdown, more supplies are needed.
Shelf-stable food, such as canned goods and crackers, macaroni and cheese, canned tuna and soups, and canned fruits and vegetables are needed, as well as water, and fruit juices for children.
“We’re opening our hearts and sharing what we can with everybody,” Ellis said. “We’re seeing more than double our number, [but] we’re doing the best that we can.”
To donate, call 410-289-3453 or visit the church at 302 North Baltimore Avenue in Ocean City.
Sarah’s Pantry, located in the Community Church in Ocean Pines, is also accepting canned goods and monetary donations. The church-run operation also encourages meat donations.
“We typically provide [supplies] to those with a referral,” Volunteer Mary Stover said. “If they don’t have a referral, we can give an emergency package. If someone comes in [affected] from the government shutdown, we can give them the emergency package.”
The pantry operates Wednesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. To ask about donations, call 410-641-5433 or drop off directly at 11227 Racetrack Road in Ocean Pines.
Additionally, the Eastern Shore Maryland Food Bank in Salisbury is seeking monetary and food donations.
“We service eight counties on the Eastern Shore and we do that through partner agencies within those counties,” Regional Program Director Jennifer Small said. “We have over 194 partner agencies, emergency shelters, food kitchens [and] youth programs. We’re all collectively working together and acquiring many resources, whether on a local level or statewide. We provide about 14,000 meals a day. It is definitely a collective partnership to meet the need.”
The food bank encouraged people to provide a monetary donation over food, as Small said the organization can stretch the dollar further.
“Every $1 donated helps us to provide three meals, and that’s because we can leverage our buying power as a Feeding America member food bank,” Small said. “We can use wholesalers to really stretch the value of that dollar. Sometimes money goes a little bit farther, where donations and food may dwindle after the holidays.”
The food bank accepts both perishable and nonperishable foods, but prefers shelf-stable foods such as pastas, rice, cereals, soups, stews, canned fruits and vegetables, and children-friendly meals such as mac and cheese.
The Eastern Shore facility is located at 28500 Owens Branch Road in Salisbury and can accept donations in person Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“We are also making sure people know they can go on our website, www.mdfoodbank.org, and access the find food tab on the main screen,” Small said. “They put in their zip code and within a mile radius they can actually access a listing of all our partners and their addresses, numbers and hours of operations.
“No one should have to suffer with food insecurity,” she added.
For more information, visit www.mdfoodbank.org or call 410-742-0050.