Vance County is hungry and hurting, and agencies don't want to deny anyone
Feeding the hungry in Vance County isn’t getting any easier.
The numbers keep coming, and those with food pantries or who are in agencies that help are trying to utilize all the available resources.
“We have given about 90 food boxes in a month’s time frame,” said Twanna Jones, the director of Area Christians Together in Service. “Usually we only accept those coming in with vouchers, but lately, we have been making an exception for people clearly in need.”
ACTS has a soup kitchen and food pantry that feeds more than 100 people some days. There’s also a Meals on Wheels program, emergency food services and summer feeding program her organization offers.
For many, there’s a reliance on food stamps. But that doesn’t always feed everybody. And Food and Nutrition Services in Vance County has a tremendous volume in cases.
In 2008, FNS was handling an average of 4,814 active cases per month. The average monthly cases rose 58 percent to 7,608 in 2012.
Joan Harlow, FNS supervisor in Vance County, said there are a number of factors contributing to the rise in active cases, including high unemployment.
The July unemployment rate in Vance County was 12.9 percent. The rate dropped for August to 11.7. The state rate is 8.7 percent and the national is 7.3 percent.
Vance County has lost 739 workers from the labor force since January, and counts 235 fewer people employed in August than in January, according to figures from the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division.
Harlow said her staff has nearly doubled over the past several years in response to the larger caseload.
Harlow and her caseworkers also put together a small food pantry in the Department of Social Services building.
She said the internal food pantry got started early this year when her department began implementing N.C. Families Accessing Services through Technology, a computer system that allows state residents to apply for and renew benefits online.
If clients’ benefits were delayed, she said her caseworkers would reach into the food pantry to help them.
NCFAST is still working out some glitches and, as a result, some clients still experience delays.
“There are glitches from time to time and you can never predict when they happen,” Harlow said. “They have been happening over the course of the year, but they are not happening with as much frequency as they were in the beginning.”
Capt. Angie Langley of the Salvation Army in Vance County said the food pantry supplies are nearly depleted from the recent influx.
“It has been extremely heavy in the past two months,” Langley said. “People were not getting food stamps and they were hitting the food bank pretty hard.”
But they have also seen an increase in clients over the past year. Langley said the organization averaged about 2,236 meals a month for the past six months, which is a 40 percent increase from the previous six months.
Harlow said her caseworkers refer clients to ACTS or the Salvation Army if their benefits run out at the end of the month.
Those referrals have risen steadily since the beginning of the year. There were 28 referrals in February and 91 in August.
“We try to help everyone who comes through our door,” Harlow said. “If we can’t because of procedural restrictions, we refer them to someone who can.”
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