Food bank hopes to fill increasing demand

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The number of families seeking assistance from the Greater Washington County Food Bank has risen 91 percent between 2006 and 2012.


During that same period, the Washington County Farm Bureau has stepped up to the plate, so to speak, trying to encourage those who can afford to donate to do so while government budgets grow tighter and tighter.


For example, the local food bank is facing roughly a 30 percent decrease in funding from the state food program, and the person in charge is awaiting word on when or if federal budgetary cutbacks known as “the sequester” scheduled to begin Friday will affect the food bank’s operation.


As of Sept. 30, the food bank had 5,062 registered households, a 12 percent increase over the previous year, said Executive Director Lisa Nuccetelli. As of Sept. 30, 2010, the number of families stood at 4,260.


“I’ve been here for 14, 15 years,” Nuccetelli said. “It was your single mothers getting the food. In the last months, it is your working families.


“It’s getting tight and tough, and now they’re having to come in and ask. And that’s a hard place to be in.”


Last year, the Washington County Farm Bureau food drive collected more than 10,000 pounds of canned goods for the food bank, and the organization is at it again, putting forth an effort that lasts through March.


“This is where organizations like ours come in,” Don Carter, a farm bureau representative, told the county commissioners at a kickoff last month.


In the summer and fall, people in need may have access to fresh fruits and vegetables from gardens’ abundance. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, the charitably minded may think of those who are less fortunate.


“After the first of the year, there’s nothing. We can actually fill the void,” Carter said.


Washington County has made headlines for the strides it has made in the development of Marcellus Shale oil and gas reserves, plus a better-than-average unemployment rate, so Commission Co-Chairman Diana Irey questioned the disconnect between these encouraging statistics and the number of people seeking assistance from the food bank and its approximately two dozen pantries.


Although Carter didn’t have an immediate answer, Nuccetellli was able to provide some clues.


“I can tell you is that we do have a significant number households registered where one or more adults in the household work but because of the size of the household, such as the number of children, and the family’s monthly income, they are eligible for food bank assistance,” she said.


“The wage earners in some of these households have previously had good-paying jobs and may have even donated to our food bank, but due to the economy or for other reasons have had to take lower-paying work that now puts them in the position of being a recipient instead of a donor.”


Nuccetelli said the food bank asks recipients for the source of their income, but it does not track this information in its database.


The onus is on recipients to provide income information that is true and correct, and government auditors collect samples of data and applications to check for compliance.


“Up until two years ago, we asked for proof of income, but I was called on the carpet for that,” Nuccetelli said.


For people to receive emergency boxes of food – assistance provided outside of monthly pantry distributions – Nuccetelli does require proof of income because these allocations are made from locally donated food, not federal commodities or food obtained through state programs.


Food drive donations may be dropped off at area libraries and other community drop-off points. A complete list is available at observer-reporter.com.


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