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Storehouse demands up but sales, donations fall
Travis Adkins, executive director of the Community Storehouse, shows 250 food boxes that were distributed Thursday. The organization has cut back on the amount of food in the boxes so it can serve more people as demand continues to rise. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Community Storehouse has been having more people coming to the agency again and again for food, rather than on a temporary basis.
In addition, a decline in sales at the Community Storehouse’s thrift store and a decline in individual donations to the agency for its backpack program are putting a strain on Community Storehouse’s budget, according to Executive Director Travis Adkins.
He estimates that from 2012 through the end of 2013, Community Storehouse had at least 15 percent more people coming to the agency for food. In 2013 the agency served 2,229 families with 10,083 food boxes, according to Adkins.
More than a year ago, Community Storehouse had to reduce the amount of food it includes in the boxes because of the increased demand, Adkins said. And for months, the agency regularly has had to close its doors early during weekly food distributions because more people come than it can process, he said.
For the last two years, Community Storehouse has seen a decrease in laid-off workers coming in for food and an increase in recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) seeking food, Adkins said.
Among those in the SNAP group are people whose unemployment benefits have run out but they are not counted as unemployed even though they still are looking for jobs, Adkins said. Also in that group are some elderly and disabled people and others whose SNAP benefits do not last the whole month, Adkins said.
Laid-off workers drawing unemployment and counted as unemployed who come to Community Storehouse for food tend to come on a temporary basis, Adkins said. But those whose unemployment has run out, are looking for work but not counted as unemployed and are drawing SNAP benefits, as well as other people drawing SNAP benefits, tend to be chronically in need of food from Community Storehouse, Adkins said.
“They’re going to be back again and again,” Adkins said of the SNAP group.
“We’ve had more homeless people” coming to Community Storehouse for food, he said. He added that the number of homeless people the agency sees probably is less than 5 percent of the total number of people it serves.
As part of its verification process, Community Storehouse official(s) visited one middle-aged homeless woman who was living in what the woman called “kind of a house” in the woods. It was made up of parts of a house that had been dismantled and were leaning against trees, Adkins said.
He said Community Storehouse gets most of the food it distributes to families from grocery stores — food that otherwise would go to landfills.
“In 2013, Community Storehouse rescued 225,601 pounds of food,” Adkins said. “Every day Community Storehouse volunteers collect produce, dairy, meat, bakery, and shelf-stable items from local grocers. Thousands of pounds of high-quality, nutritious food that would otherwise be discarded is rescued and delivered to where it’s needed most.”
In addition to distributing food to families, Community Storehouse operates a school backpack program, providing children identified by school personnel as being at risk for hunger with “discreet backpacks, filled with nutritious, child-friendly foods,” Adkins said. “This program is designed to meet the needs of children who rely on free school meals as their only — or reliable — source of food.”
The backpack program serves about 585 children in the Henry County and Martinsville school divisions this school year, he said.
For example, he said one teacher reported: “Mark is a student in my classroom. He comes to school so hungry each morning that I make sure he eats two breakfasts before he leaves the cafeteria. At lunchtime, I personally take him through the line and put one of everything that is offered on his tray. He usually eats it all.
“I cannot be sure of his home life and what is offered there, but his clothes are often dirty and the wrong size for his wiry little body. He never brings a daily snack, like the rest of the children, and never packs his own lunch.”
Adkins estimates that individual donations for the backpack program are way down. In the last several months, he said, “We’ve probably had half the number of backpack buddies,” referring to people who donate $20 a month or a one-time donation of $200 to sponsor a child.
To make up for that and for other challenges in the agency’s budget, Adkins has devoted more time to seeking grants — with success, he said.
The agency received $10,000 in grants in 2012, but $80,000 in grants in 2013, he said. The grants in 2013 included $30,000 from the Hughes Memorial Foundation and Wal-Mart State Giving Foundation, among others.
Another budget challenge, Adkins said, is that sales from Community Storehouse’s thrift store on U.S. 220 south of Martinsville have declined because of competition from more thrift stores in the area.
Another factor is the number of bad weather days this winter when the store was closed, he said.
Adkins said Community Storehouse also needs more volunteers, especially those willing to serve on a consistent, regular basis, not just as part of court-ordered service or public assistance-ordered service.