Desperation and generosity are in a dead heat at Rim Country food banks.
While food bank lines have grown with a heartbreaking influx of the recently unemployed, donations this month have jumped 15 percent.
St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank manager Wayne Parent said the generosity of the community always amazes him.
“Someone always shows up with food,” he said.
Sometimes Parent finds food sitting neatly outside the food bank door when he arrives in the morning. Other times, people just drive up — their cars loaded with food.
Recently, a man showed up unannounced with 65 pounds of cans. This man, like so many others, had stocked up at the supermarket and then just dropped it off, not wanting so much as a pat on the pack.
“Some just bring money,” he added.
The recent uptick in donations is welcome relief for the food bank, struggling to cope with a surge in the number of families needing help.
In September, the food bank helped 614 families or 2,307 people, an increase of about 40 families over August.
Parent said he cannot predict if the numbers will continue to rise, given the uncertainty of the economy, but he’s preparing for the worst.
So far, he has about 15,000 pounds of food stocked up, which will last two to three weeks. In a normal month, he hands out 25,000 pounds of food, but in August he gave away 27,000 pounds.
A curious increase has been the need for dog food. Normally, the Humane Society donates whenever it has extra food stockpiled. Not wanting the food to go bad or attract bugs, they give it to Parent to hand out. Volunteers load up 10-pound bags of food and include it with food boxes when needed.
“In this town, poor families have a lot of dogs,” Parent said. “And a lot of times they will feed their animals before themselves.”
While dog food is a necessity for pets, Parent said he always needs more protein for families.
Items like meat, fish and peanut butter are always in short supply and high demand. Other items include coffee and pancake syrup.
While most of the food goes to feeding hungry families, the food bank also helps local organizations throughout town.
One day this week, Harold Fleeger with U-Turn for Christ was picking up boxes of food to feed the men he helps at his ministry on West Frontier.
Fleeger explained U-Turn for Christ helps men who are dealing with various issues turn their life around.
Parent donates food and Fleeger’s organization does odd jobs around the food bank, like cleaning the floors.
Pointing to Parent, Fleeger said he is a true blessing to the community.
Parent was not always involved with food banks. Before retiring, he owned several convenience-type stores in California. This experience helps him manage the food bank’s inventory today.
Other volunteers consider this their second job after retirement.
Jeanette Schuster, 76, has been working with food banks for 12 years. After she retired, she needed something to do to keep busy, and a neighbor got her interested.
“I find it rewarding helping people,” she said. “It is satisfying to see you helped someone get back on their feet.”
Sue Hubnthal has been with St. Vincent for nine years. She got involved after hearing a sermon.
“To me, it is a way of life,” she said. “It is an honor to serve the less fortunate.”
Volunteers often see that people need more than food. Regularly they may need help paying a utility bill. Parent pointed out that when someone needs help buying food, they often have bigger problems.
While St. Vincent may not have the money to give, it calls on other organizations to pitch in.
Nothing is wasted at the food bank. Even stale bread is reused. Parent donates the bread to individuals who use it to feed animals.
“I can’t stand to throw anything away,” he said. “There is always someone or something that will eat it.”