Wednesday August 8, 2012

CONCORD, N.H. -- Many food pantries in New Hampshire are facing a food drought this summer, with demand increasing and shelves emptying.

New Hampshire Food Bank officials say summers often are tough as people focus more on vacations than donations. But many of the 400 soup kitchens and food pantries the organization helps supply say they are seeing a 40 percent increase in the demand for food, according to development director Colleen Cowette.

"The need is rising faster than our resources can keep up," Cowette said.

Barbara Chellis, Concord area director for the Belknap/Merrimack Community Action program, said New Hampshire Motor Speedway recently gave them an abundance of hamburger and hot dog rolls. "But we have no hot dogs or hamburgers to go with them," she said. "One of the things we have a hard time getting is meat for our freezers."

Chellis said the Concord food pantry has come close to having to turn people away.

"Sometimes people can go out of here with 3-4 bags of food," she said. "There have been times when they’ve gotten one bag with six cans of something."

Cowette said the food pantries across the state used to exist to meet emergency food needs. "They’re more and more becoming the grocery store."

Cowette said more than 12 percent of people in Coos County don’t know where their next meal is coming from; in Hillsborough County, it’s more than 9 percent.

She said the "more shocking" figure is that one in four children in Manchester don’t know where their next meal is coming from -- a situation social service agencies refer to as "food insecure." Cowette said that description fits 143,000 New Hampshire residents -- or one in nine.

"Our shelves are pretty bare," said Rick Dumont, food pantry coordinator for Rockingham Community Action. He said their food pantries in Seabrook, Raymond and Salem are all experiencing food shortages, but noted that Salem is especially low on food.

"A lot of people we’ve served and haven’t seen in years are coming back," Dumont said.

Salvation Army officials in Manchester say donations have dropped dramatically.

"It’s the dog days of summer," said Susan Poulin, social services director at Cedar Street Salvation Army in Manchester. "I don’t know how we make it sometimes, but we get there. Everyone walks away with a bag of food. But we’re getting to the bottom now."

Poulin said she recently placed an order with the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- which helps stock many food pantries and soup kitchens -- and got half of what she requested.

"We ask for heaven and earth and we get a little of what they can give us," Poulin said.

Food pantry directors say they are in desperate need of peanut butter, canned meats, rice, pasta, soup and canned fruits and vegetables.

"We need pretty much anything and everything anybody can think of, as long as it’s not opened or outdated," Chellis said.