CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The cupboards become a bit bare after the holidays when donations are down at food pantries that help the needy.
The 32nd annual United Food Operation food drive kicks off in January as the organization scrambles to help area food pantries feed the needy during winter months.
Elaine Harris, who has served as UFO chairwoman since the beginning, said times are especially tough this year.
"Donations are down," she said. "Cupboards are bare. We need sponsors to help bring in food. It's tax-deductible."
People especially need assistance during winter months when they are trying to stretch meager incomes to pay soaring utility bills and put food on the table, she said. Some must choose between paying for food or medication. Some clients have lost jobs or had their hours cut. She sees grandparents taking in grandchildren because their parents are into drugs.
"Kids are being placed with family members who are already struggling," she said. "Our program is designed to help during difficult times."
UFO collects for food pantries and acts as a distribution center. It is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that collects food and funds to help stock community food pantries in Kanawha and Putnam counties. Needed donations include nonperishable foods, cleaning supplies, diapers, infant formula, and baby food. Gift cards to grocery stores are also helpful for those who have special dietary needs, for example, a diabetic diet.
UFO collects donations for Christian Community Cupboard, Covenant House, Heart and Hand, Mountain Mission, Nitro Community Services, Pocatalico/Sissonville Community Food Pantry, Salvation Army, St. Albans Community Food Pantry, Five Loaves/Two Fishes, and EnAct.
Drema Ward, director of Five Loaves/Two Fishes in Poca, said the pantry is well stocked during the holidays with five area schools heading food drives. Then contributions slow and shelves begin to become bare. Another difficult time is summer when children are out of school.
"During school children get two hot meals a day," she said. "In the summer these children don't get to eat enough."
The number of families receiving assistance continues to grow, Ward said. In 2011, 1,823 families received help at Five Loaves/Two Fishes, housed inside Poca United Methodist Church. In 2012, 2,037 families were assisted. Harris said that during a recent meeting with those heading food pantries, she was told they are struggling to meet needs.
During the more than three decades Harris has served as UFO chairwoman, she has seen donations hit peaks and valleys.
"We are in a valley right now," she said. "We desperately need food." Aside from donations, volunteers are needed to help sort food, especially on Fridays. Volunteers have ranged from individuals and school groups to church groups and Charleston professional firefighters.
Those who wish to make cash donations can make checks payable to United Food Operation and mail them to UFO, Box 20441, Charleston, WV 25362. Donations are tax deductible.
Fore more information go to www.unitedfoodoperation.org or call 304-342-2023. Meanwhile, Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway serves more than 600 programs in 48 counties.
"We work on the local and national level to get donations," said Chad Morrison, director of development. Those who donate range from individuals and local groceries to national corporations.
Food is provided to soup kitchens, food pantries, day care centers, shelters, after school programs, Back Pack programs, and senior programs. Mountaineer Food Bank is affiliated with Feeding America, a national organization dedicated to hunger relief. Food is trucked from the central location in Gassaway to the various counties. "We have different deliveries five to six days a week," Morrison said. "We deliver 80,000 to 100,000 pounds of food each day."
Officials from various feeding programs meet trucks at the drop sites to pick up supplies.
"Pantries are seeing more clients and we try to keep up with demand," he said. "We are a nonprofit organization. We rely on donations and grants." Local food drives sprinkled around the state help with collections. Donations are also needed for transportation costs in trucking food to various locations. "Transportation is a challenge to get the food where it needs to be," he said. "We have six trucks on the road at all times during the week. Some counties are small, isolated and poverty stricken."
January and February can be the toughest times to keep food stocked and trucks rolling. Donations decline after the holidays during the bitter cold of winter when people are struggling to pay high utility bills and feed families. Go to www.mountaineerfoodbank.org for more information.
Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, http://www.dailymail.com