By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — Hunger will haunt the area this year as demands increase at local food pantries and soup kitchens, some area social services providers said Thursday.
Food bank and social services officials attribute growing needs to unemployment, low wages, limited income, rising costs and cuts and changes in supplemental programs, such as food stamps.
Demand at the Lord’s Table Feeding Program and at the three food banks in Oneonta is increasing among all age groups, said Joyce Mason, director of food ministries at St. James’ Episcopal Church.
The Lord’s Table provides hot meals to an average of 60 guests each weeknight, she said.
Through Nov. 30, the program served about 13,325 meals in 2012, Mason said, compared with 15,000 meals in 2011. The food pantry provided food to about 4,220 people, up from about 3,350 in 2011, she said.
“There is no question the numbers are going up,’’ Mason said.
A new study by the Hunger Action Network reported that more senior citizens are using food pantries and soup kitchens than 25 years ago, with emergency food programs evolving into supplemental sources for households that need ongoing help.
The Hunger Action Network study, based on 560 of 2,500 surveys sent in September to programs statewide, shows seniors comprising 20 percent of visitors, compared with 4 percent in 1987. About one third of recipients cited in the new study were children, compared with 52 percent under age 18 a quarter-century ago.
Less than half of program visitors were receiving food stamps, though most were income-eligible, the study said. About two-thirds of pantries and kitchens report a decline in food donations, though 89 percent say they served more people last year, and 40 percent said some people were turned away.
Locally, needs have increased and assistance has decreased because of changes in federal guidelines defining poverty, Mason said. The numbers of people needing food assistance are rising because of under-employment and lack of employment, including those released from Otsego County jail, she said.
Though help is available, Mason said, many residents eligible for public assistance are missing opportunities because they aren’t taking the time or effort to learn about changes and apply for help.
In Delaware County, the Office for the Aging senior meals program expects to serve 2,000 to 3,000 more meals this year than in 2012, said Wayne Shepard, office director. In 2012, nearly 80,000 meals were served, up from 76,000 in 2011, he said.
Demand is increasing because people are living longer, food and fuel costs are increasing and the meals program is an effective way to address living on a fixed income, Shepard said.
Delaware County has about 12,000 seniors aged 60 and older, Shepard said. Seniors may have meals delivered or go to one of six sites throughout the county, he said, and a donation of $3 per meal is suggested. The meal sites also provide social opportunities for seniors who live alone, Shepard said.
Linda Vausse, food bank coordinator for Delaware Opportunities, said the program plans to serve 400 or more families a month this year, up from 350 to 400 families per month in 2012. The demand is coming from single mothers and other family units, Vausse said, and she attributed the increase in need to lack of jobs and to low wages.
Fifteen pantries throughout the county will provide a recipient with a three-to-four day supply of fresh produce, canned goods and frozen meat once a month, Vausse said. Many senior citizens live on fixed incomes, and Vausse said she has heard that they are “too proud’’ to accept assistant from the pantries, which would welcome them.
“I wish we would see more seniors than we have,’’ Vausse said. “We’re here to help everybody.’’