By MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Assistant Editor
When school ends for the summer break in less than a month, some 50,000 children in Jefferson County who rely on free or reduced-price lunches will lose the benefit of those reliable meals.
Charities that help to feed some of these children and their families are preparing for a busy summer season.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul could begin the season with little or no stock unless donations increase soon. The charity announced that its shelves were “looking bare” — and empty of vegetables — in the middle of last week. An urgent call for help was issued on Facebook and Twitter.
Shively Area Ministries — a charity supported by local churches, including several Catholic parishes — is planning a food drive this month to help meet the increased needs brought on by the summer season.
“It’s a surprise to many people that requests for food assistance are higher in the summertime,” said Dare to Care spokesperson Stan Siegwald during a phone interview Monday. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Shively Area Ministries are among the organizations that distribute food from Dare to Care.
“It’s because kids are out of school,” he said. “When you consider there are 50,000 children in Jefferson County on free or reduced lunch, that’s 50,000 lunches a day. We are missing a minimum of a quarter of a million meals a week in the summertime and that’s just Jefferson County alone.”
Those numbers, he added, don’t take into account those children who eat breakfast for free or at a reduced price.
Siegwald said requests for help have risen and continue to rise among those who seek help from Dare to Care and its partners.
“The need for food assistance has risen 67 percent in the past four years,” he noted. “The need for food among people has gone from one in eight to one in six. That’s nearly 200,000 people who have been in food hardship and sought assistance from one of Dare to Care’s partners.
“It’s everywhere,” he added. “It’s in every single neighborhood in our community.”
A survey released in late April by the organization Feeding America (Dare to Care is a member of the organization’s network) showed that about 17 percent of Kentuckians are at risk for hunger.
That’s more than 700,000 people in the state who are considered “food insecure,” meaning they don’t know with regularity where they will eat their next meal and sometimes must choose between paying a bill and buying food, according to the study. Called Map the Meal Gap, the study lists data by state, county and congressional district. It’s available online at the website feedingamerica.org.
Ed Wnorowski, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said the need for food among people enrolled in its programs and who seek meals at its Open Hand Kitchen is exceeding donations.
“Donations have been pretty consistent,” he noted during an interview last Friday. “But this recession has been protracted.”
The Society’s food pantry on its main campus is used to assist the families and individuals who participate in one of the campus’ programs. In addition, the charity operates a kitchen that served more than 9,000 lunches last month alone.
Early in the recession, in fiscal year 2008-2009, the kitchen served about 85,000 meals. The next year, it served 94,000. The agency projects to show an eight percent rise this year.
“We’re on track to serve 100,000 to 105,000 meals,” said Wnorowski.
In addition to the society’s main campus, the charity also has conferences run by volunteers in parishes around the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Church in Fairdale distributes food from Dare to Care and other donations several times a month. That conference is doing well right now, thanks to a Lenten collection.
St. Agnes Church’s conference runs a food pantry, too, though stocks currently are low.
Steve Edelen, a volunteer at St. Agnes’ conference, said, “It seems like it goes in cycles. We get loaded up and then we get a lot of people with need and respond to them. Sooner or later, we wind up getting replenished.
“We’re running a little bit low right now, but somehow God provides,” he added.