United Way getting close to turning families away

Published 12:05 am Friday, September 28, 2007

NATCHEZ — The United Way Food Pantry isn’t turning people away hungry, but they might have to soon.

The food pantry is extremely low on food, Director Tommy Jackson said Thursday, walking between rows of empty shelves, a few boxes of food scattered here and there.

“This month, we gave boxes (of food) to 640 families,” Jackson said. “We have 70 boxes left for the rest of the week.”

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The food pantry can buy another shipment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from which it gets half its food, at the first of the month.

Even after that, the pantry might have to tighten its belt.

The number of families requesting food has risen by 100 each month for the last two months, Jackson said.

That means the shelves are emptying faster than usual.

“We can only get about 50 percent of our food through the USDA,” he said. “About half comes form donations.”

And they need donations right now, he said.

“We’re not turning anyone away, but we’re close,” United Way Director Kathy Stephens said.

Summertime is traditionally one of the leanest times for food and monetary donations to food pantries, Stephens said.

“When people donate food, they think about families eating near the holidays,” Stephens said. “But families have got to eat every day.”

The need is just as great now as during the holidays, Jackson said.

“We get less food but more people,” he said.

Monetary donations or nonperishable food donations would help fill the shelves, Stephens said.

Jackson said he was confident that the community would step up and help if they knew the situation.

“This is one of the most generous towns I know of,” he said. “They really are willing to help out.”

The food pantry isn’t the only nonprofit agency that is seeing an increase in those seeking assistance.

Louis Gunning, president of the board of the Stewpot soup kitchen, said he saw his daily meals served jump from 190 meals before last November to as high as 330 recently.

Gunning said the Stewpot has enough food for now, but he’s running out of volunteers.

“We’re not desperate (for food),” he said. “I’m concerned about what happens next year. We just can’t handle that many people forever. But the volunteers, they’re exhausted.”

Martha Mitternight, director of the Natchez chapter of Catholic Charities, said her office has seen more people coming in, too.

The emergency services portion of Catholic Charities helps people who run into unexpected financial problems, such as a sudden illness, pay bills and make rent payments.

“We don’t just dole out money,” Mitternight said. “We provide financial counseling, too.”

Roughly eight months ago, they started seeing more people come in looking for help.

“People we had never seen before came into our office,” she said.

Mitternight said she thought the increase was due to a combination of decreased state medical benefits for the elderly, people who can’t make mortgage payments being awarded mortgages and Hurricane Katrina evacuees running out of resources.

“I think you stir that all up, and that’s what we’re looking at right now,” she said.

To volunteer or donate food or money to the food pantry, call 601-446-7303.

For information on ways to donate to Catholic Charities, call 601-442-4579.

To volunteer or donate food to the Stewpot, call Gunning at 601-442-2270 or the Stewpot at 601-442-9413.