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April 24, 2008

 

High costs make for hard times

Dwindling economy plus rising prices push more people to seek help, donate less

Loaves and Fishes

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Phyllis Schriefer of Cortland talks about the rising cost of living while at Loaves and Fishes before the afternoon meal at Grace Episcopal Church in Cortland Wednesday.

By AIMEE MILKS
Staff Reporter
amilks@cortlandstandard.net

CORTLAND — Phyllis Schriefer, 43, moved back to New York in the 1990s and has had a hard time since, especially in the last year with the rising cost of food.
She was eating dinner Wednesday evening at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen at Grace Episcopal Church on Church Street.
“Being on a fixed income and only getting $22 in food stamps, it’s hard to make ends meet,” said Schriefer of Cortland. “I have to depend on food pantries and meals here. It doesn’t help that there are a lot of foods I can’t eat because of doctor’s orders and the food I can have are more expensive, stuff like fruits and vegetables.”
With rising costs of food, oil, gasoline and other utilities, many more Cortland County residents are seeking help from area charities.
Capt. Scott Dorchak, who oversees the Salvation Army of Cortland County on south Main Street with his wife, Danielle, said the nonprofit agency has seen an increase in people coming in to its food pantry.
“We record first-time users and since October have seen a decrease,” Dorchak said. “This shows that those who are using the pantry are using it more frequently.”
But as demand for their services increase, some local charities are seeing a decline in donations, another effect of rising costs.
“We’ve actually seen a decrease in actual food items coming in to us. We have noticed it since last September,” said Marie Walsh, executive director of Catholic Charities of Cortland County. “I think everyone is becoming more protective of their own resources because of the economy. People are afraid … You have to take care of your own children before you can help others.”
From January to March 2007 Catholic Charities received $4,715 in food donations. This year, from that same time period, the agency has only received $1,632.
“That’s significant,” Walsh said. “That’s a 75 percent decrease in actual food donations.”
Dorchak said general donations for the Salvation Army are down $4,000 from last year.
“This time in 2007, we had $6,000 in general donations,” Dorchak said. “Now we have $2,000.”
Capt. Danielle Dorchak said the main source of food for the Salvation Army’s pantry comes from a grant, which the agency uses to purchase food from the Food Bank of Central New York in Syracuse.
“The food pantry is supposed to be for emergency uses. Individuals can receive help every 30 days,” she said. “We’re definitely seeing people are taking advantage of the every 30 days. I think more and more people are kind of needing to depend on us.”
Katharine Loomis, director of development at the Food Bank of Central New York, said the increased need is a national trend corresponding to dramatic increases in food and fuel prices.
“The downturn in the economy has been coming for a couple years,” Loomis said.
She added that increased need comes from those who live day-to-day and once an increase hits, it puts them over the edge and in need of emergency services.
“A lot of those people are the people that have jobs,” Loomis said. “The working poor.”
Bill Foster, a 55-year-old city resident, said he tries to walk as often as possible to save money on gasoline, as he ate his dinner Wednesday at Loaves and Fishes.
“I have to drive around a lot because I do construction,” he said, adding that being off work during the winter “killed him.” “I hope something changes fast.”
Along with walking, Foster said he also tries to save money on food by eating at the local soup kitchen, which serves lunch Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 1 p.m.; dinners and Wednesday’s and Friday’s from 4:30 to 6 p.m.; and bagged lunches on Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to noon.
Kim Hill, executive director of Loaves and Fishes, said the agency has not had a dramatic decrease in food donations, but it has been a noticeable one.
“There is definitely an increase in services and a decrease in some donations, like food items,” she said. “We never run out of food, though.”
The Food Bank, which provides food to 16 member programs in Cortland County, five of which offer emergency services, prepared for the increase in need.
“We saw this trend coming for a while,” Loomis said. “We made sure we had adequate food for our pantries. We were being proactive instead of reactive and tried to make sure we had everything in place.”
Wendy Thibeault, coordinator of the McGraw Community Food Pantry at the McGraw United Methodist Church, said the pantry there is in a relatively good state, even with the increasing costs of food and fuel.
“Our donations have actually increased and we’re still serving the same amount of people,” she said, adding that the food pantry serves on average about 100 people each month.
The McGraw Community Food Pantry is open from 6 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday.