Local food pantries see increased holiday demand

At Interchurch Food Pantry in Franklin, volunteers are seeing the effects of inflation and the increased demand of the holiday season.

Just before Thanksgiving, the pantry set a single-day record of 174 households served. Typically, that number hovers around 110, said Carol Phipps, executive director.

“Right before Thanksgiving, we had a surge of people wanting turkeys and fixings to go with their Thanksgiving dinner. Leading up to Christmas is a really busy time as well,” Phipps said. “People are trying to prepare for the holidays and hoping to have gifts for their kids. Their paychecks are being spread thin. They come in seeking food, and that’s what we’re here for.”

Exacerbating the need for food is rising food prices. Food was more than 5% more expensive this October than it was in October 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Prices are hitting consumers and are hitting under-resourced people particularly hard,” Phipps said. “They’re struggling to keep their head above water. The rising prices are causing them to struggle even more.”

The pantry typically serves 500 families a week. With rising demand and older volunteers leaving due to the risks of the pandemic comes an increase in volunteers needed, too. The pantry has about 100 active volunteers, with 20 serving on any given day in four-hour shifts, she said.

“It’s a constant challenge to make sure we have volunteers with the right skills where and when we need them,” Phipps said. “We recruit people who can drive box trucks, for example. Other people stock shelves, others pick up orders for individual families and others specialize in loading cars as families come to get them.”

The Impact Center Food Pantry at Mt. Pleasant Christian Church, where families are served on Thursdays and Saturdays, has not seen a marked increase from year to year, but warehouse manager Jason Bratina said about 100 more people a week show up during the holidays. About 150 volunteers take part during any given week, he said.

“On Thanksgiving, we give them Thanksgiving meals, including turkey and a bag with necessities to make their own Thanksgiving. We have a similar program for Christmas,” Bratina said.

The Impact Center collects food donations from Midwest Food Bank, Second Helpings and Meijer, while its clothing donations are almost completely from individuals, he said.

Spending time helping people aligns with Bratina’s faith as a member of the church, he said.

“I got involved a year ago. It’s just the ability to help people, to change people’s lives,” he said.

At The Refuge, a pantry in Greenwood, there hasn’t be a marked increase in demand for food since last year, but the need for interaction from pantry-goers has increased due to the isolation aspect of the pandemic, said Kevin Carmichael, executive director.

“The need became greater for social community and people needing people in their life. Because of (stimulus checks) from the government, we didn’t see a huge increase like everyone thought we would,” Carmichael said. “At the height of COVID, we did a drive-thru to meet physical needs, and tried to spend time calling them, mailing cards, to let them know people care about them and are praying for them.”

The pantry needs about 50 volunteers a week to operate, and those volunteers help bag food, deliver food to cars, answer phone calls and even help students who need tutoring, he said.

“We partner with Northeast Elementary School to help kids who need the most help or another adult in their life,” Carmichael said. “We work with them on their homework, study skills, whatever they need help with.”

Carmichael has been a part of the pantry since it first opened in 2007, and said he stayed with it due to the ability to have a positive impact on people who are in need.

“I think (it’s about) the ability to be able to help people wherever they’re at,” Carmichael said. “People come and know we care about them. It’s not just about giving them food. It’s hearing them and seeing them and being available in whatever capacity they need. I would say the thing I’m most proud about, specifically in Johnson County, is when people know there is a need, they step up and want to help people. It’s great to be a part of an organization that fosters that.”