“It’s the slowest we’ve ever seen it.”
Those were the words yesterday of Roberta Stienle who coordinates the Neighbors Helping Neighbors program that provides food baskets to needy individuals and families during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But while monetary donations to the program have been especially slow, the faith community, as well as individuals and organizations, has stepped forward to provide an estimated 700 Thanksgiving baskets.
Even with so many requests being filled, Patricia St. Amant, of the department of human services, said, “The requests just haven’t stopped. We’re still taking calls today and we’re scrambling.”
She said the program, a pooling of community contributions and needs, is getting a different level of requests this year.
She said from referrals she’s received from the School Department, a number of those seeking assistance “are the working poor” who are grateful to have a bit of assistance at this time of year.
St. Amant also linked an increase in requests to the reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The program was cut Nov. 1 by $39 billion over 10 years. On an individual basis the cuts amount to about 5 percent.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 181,000 Rhode Islanders receive SNAP benefits and the average benefit per household is $253 per month in 2012.
The state’s share of the cuts is projected at $20 million.
“I’m hearing the cut in food stamps more and more often. There’s a greater volume looking for assistance,” she said.
Traditionally, the Neighbors program works on monetary donations from the previous year to fill needs in the current year. Roberta Steinle, Warwick Human Service Department coordinator, said Neighbors entered this holiday season with about $19,000 in reserves. Usually by this time, there will have been $8,000 to $9,000 in donations. Donations as of Monday totaled $3,000, she said.
“We’re off to a slow start,” she said.
Nonetheless, Steinle, is confident donations will pick up. A major portion of monetary donations, about $5,800, is generated by city dress down days. Those $1 donations also go to assist other non-profits.
Steinle said food baskets would go to most of the 700 Thanksgiving recipients. As it has done for years, St. Gregory the Great is providing 150 baskets. Other parishes providing baskets include St. Kevin, St. Peter, St. Catherine, St. Benedict, St. Rita and Saints Clement and Rose. She said a number of parishes increased the baskets they are providing this year and that a parishioner at St. Mark’s arranged through the union he is a member of to provide baskets to 75 families on the Neighbors’ list.
In addition to baskets, Neighbors provides $20 gift certificates to Stop & Shop to individuals needing assistance. As there are fewer Christmas basket donations, the Neighbors fund is used to purchase gift certificates and augment basket donations.
The Neighbors program essentially acts as a clearinghouse for assistance and a collection point for donations. Steinle checks requests and referrals to ensure that recipients are truly in need and that multiple baskets don’t go to one family while another receives nothing.
Monetary donations can be sent directly to Neighbors Helping Neighbors at City Hall or to the Warwick Beacon at 1944 Warwick Ave., Warwick.