The summer is typically the time of year when donations to food banks and pantries drop to their lowest. But this year in particular, programs that supply free food to those in need are feeling a growing disparity between supply and demand.
“The need is still quite high,” said Andrew Schiff, CEO of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. “Actually, it’s the highest it’s ever been.”
Programs like the Louis and Goldie Chester Full Plate Kosher Pantry, a nearly three-year-old program facilitated through the Jewish Seniors Agency of Rhode Island, now serves more than 170 people statewide.
The program provides free kosher foods to those in need.
“We have less donations than when we first began,” said Ethan Adler, assistant director of the Jewish Eldercare Program, which, like the Full Plate program, is a division of the Jewish Seniors Agency.
Adler believes the decreased donations are due to a combination of the economy and the fact that people are less likely to think about Full Plate now that it has been around for nearly three years.
“We always become complacent,” said Rabbi Richard Perlman, who has been involved with the program since its inception. “We get used to things.”
He echoed Adler’s sentiment that vacations, and a lack of bar and bat mitzvahs and youth group meetings to organize donation drives, decrease the amount of food they see come in.
“People get wrapped up in their vacations and forget people get hungry,” he said. “They think someone else took care of it. But that’s never the case.”
In addition to the stagnating donations, Adler said the pantry, which is housed in the Jewish Seniors Agency in Providence, has been servicing more and more people. Those in need of free kosher food can visit the pantry once every two weeks and, depending on their family size, can get a certain allotment of food. Perlman said Temple Am David is also seeing more seniors take advantage of the subsidized kosher lunch program available on weekdays at the temple. For $3, those over 60 can enjoy a kosher lunch, which is provided through a federally funded program. The program is about a year old, and initially they were seeing between eight and 10 people a day. Now, they see up to 18 people daily; on Fridays, their busiest day, they have more than 30 people.
Despite the growing need for low-cost kosher lunches, Perlman said he’s happy so many people turn out to the temple.
“It’s good for [the seniors] to socialize and get out,” he said.
“But at Full Plate, the numbers are growing, and that doesn’t put a smile on my face.”
Perlman said he realizes that any time someone new comes through the door at Full Plate, it means someone else has lost a job or is facing hard times.
“I don’t care what the unemployment numbers say … it’s a lot worse than what the statistics show,” he said.
The pantry has a close relationship with the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, which provides Full Plate with extra goods should they need them. In turn, any non-kosher donations that Full Plate receives are dolled out to other food pantries in the community. Adler said since the program’s inception, they have given away more than 103 tons of kosher food.
Although Full Plate is struggling with issues of supply and demand, Schiff said donations at the RI Community Food Bank have been steady.
“Folks have been very generous,” he said. “Nobody is under the illusion that need has gone down.”
To help offset the increased need for free food, the RI Community Food Bank has been holding a summer food drive that ends at the end of this month, and Schiff said the response has been great.
“From our perspective, people are very generous,” he said. “People are very aware.”
In general, Schiff said the summer is the “low ebb in the year” when donations dip from the winter months. Still, he said this summer isn’t any different from those in past years.
“A lot of it has to do with [the fact that] people are on vacation,” he said. When school gets back in session, the community becomes more aware of the fact that donations are needed, he explained.
For families with young children, the summer becomes an especially difficult time. During the school year, students receive school meals and in the summer, certain programs offer meal plans. But toward the end of August, when most summer programs draw to a close, students are left with a multi-week gap between provided meals.
“It’s a time of year when there is a lot of need,” said Schiff. “We try to anticipate it in every way we can.”
It’s through drives like the one going on now that Schiff said the food bank tries to stock up for the final weeks of summer.
And to Schiff, the success of the drive is a testament to people’s dedication to their community food pantries.
“People support the food bank because they know they have to,” he said.
Perlman is hopeful people will be reminded to keep food banks in mind even during the otherwise carefree summer months.
“These are tough times,” he said. “We have an obligation to help each other.”