Economy sends more people hunting help

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 29, 2009

NATCHEZ — While the holiday season typically sends more families looking for help, area non-profit directors said this year they are fielding even more requests than usual.

Tommy Jackson, director of the Food Pantry in Natchez, said the economic situation and high unemployment have more families seeking assistance with food than ever before.

Approximately 650 families are currently qualified for food distributions from the pantry.

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Jackson said not only is his organization seeing more applicants, he is seeing a different type of applicant as well.

“We are seeing a lot of middle class America that is having to have help this time of year,” Jackson said. “Most people are living paycheck to paycheck without a lot in savings and the people who did have a good savings lost a lot of it when the stock market crashed.”

The Food Pantry is part of Catholic Charities, and Jackson said that association gives the Food Pantry the ability to help families and individuals in need with more than just food. And often, Jackson said the families that apply for food distributions need that extra help.

“When they come in, people feel really low, and by the time they leave we try to help them improve their mentality,” Jackson said. “We try to help them in any way we can. In our building we can help with housing, clothing and counseling.”

But Jackson said they depend heavily on donations to continue to provide the crucial services to families in need.

“For every dollar donated, we are able to get $20 worth of food,” Jackson said. “Even if someone can just spare on can of food, a lot of people giving one can of food goes a long way.”

Louis Gunning, director of The Stewpot, can also stretch a little bit of food and little bit of money a long way. That is especially important since his organization is preparing 300 meals a day.

Meals are served in The Stewpot dining room or delivered to home-bound recipients.

Gunning said he is sure there are more people in need of a hot meal in Natchez, but at the time, he said The Stewpot is maxed out.

“We are space limited to about 300,” he said. “We have reached the maximum number that we can handle on a given day because of the size of our building, the size of our stoves and the size of our freezers.”

Gunning said he depends completely on volunteer drivers to deliver the meals, and right now he doesn’t have near enough to cover the available routes.

He said volunteers only commit about an hour of time a week.

“The people who do deliver the meals really like to do it,” Gunning said. “I think people are afraid to do it because they are of the not having the time to do it all the time.

“If someone can’t do it on a given day, all they have to do is let me know, and I’ll get their route covered.”

Gunning said during the holiday season organizations and individuals donate a good amount of food to The Stewpot. Donations die off shortly after the holiday season, but the need never stops.

“If you go up there right now, we look full,” he said. “But in four months, we will look empty.”

Besides volunteering to deliver food, Gunning said the organization is in need of monetary donations to keep the shelves stocked with food after the holidays are over.

“We can buy food cheaper than people can at the store,” Gunning said.

At the United Way, donations touch many different groups.

The United Way collects money through an annual fundraising drive and then distributes it among its benefiting agencies. This year, United Way Executive Director Marsha Colson said 15 different local non-profits have applied for funding. The United Way has a fundraising goal of $175,000.

“We always see more need during the holidays, but we have been seeing more needs this year, and it is a more desperate need,” Colson said. “We are seeing people that have no place to live and there are more of them.

“They are people who still have a job but have had their hours cut or people who used to be able to easily find a job, but can’t now.”

The United Way campaign is ongoing through January and donors can donate through their workplace or by contacting the local United Way office.

All funds donated to the local office are kept in Adams County, Colson said.

“For people right now in this tough economy, the next thing may be what pushes them over the edge,” Colson said.