The Reisterstown United Methodist Church food pantry has fed, on average, about 50 families a week. Last Saturday alone, they passed that mark with 55 families coming in for food assistance. Combined with the 30 families that took part in their food program Wednesday, it represents the most active week the food pantry has had since its inception nearly two years ago.
Lani Hoffmann, director of the food pantry, said she associates the increase in usage with the decline in SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, which went into effect at the beginning of the month.
SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, was expanded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, to aid recovery in the recession. This expansion ended Nov. 1, dropping a family of four's maximum benefits by $432 a year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services.
The Reisterstown Food Pantry provides families with a 25-pound bag of food once a month. The pantry is open on Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m.-noon. Hoffmann said she has already seen people who are affected by the expansion expiration.
"We know most of the people who come in. We try to talk to them about their situations," Hoffmann said. "There was a woman who said she was experiencing a $54-a-month cut. That's the difference between eating lunch every day. They're going to become a two-meal family."
According to Feeding America, a nonprofit that provides support to food banks across the country, 102,780 people in Baltimore County use the SNAP program annually. In a year, that will translate to 4,319,539 meals lost by hungry families due to the reduction in benefits.
Dr. Ed Hartman, director of the Community Crisis Center, a homelessness prevention agency in Reisterstown, said in the past year, they were able to provide food on 2,411 occasions to individuals in the community. Families from Reisterstown, Owings Mills and Glyndon can use their services every other month. In addition to providing food, clothing and hygiene products, the center provides eviction prevention assistance as well as educational programs.
"With the cut in the SNAP program, that's going to mean about 11 more days per family without food, and of course it's going to be at the end of the month," Hartman said. "They're going to be wondering 'Where's my next meal coming from?' And that's based off $1.11 meal. So we're talking rice and beans, or mac and cheese, to begin with."
Hoffmann said it has been a struggle to keep up with the increasing need.
"We haven't had to turn anyone away yet, but it's been close," Hoffmann said. "We've got an emergency fund that we've been slowly draining. The aid that's coming in, just isn't matching what's going out."
The holidays see both an increase in donations and need, Hoffman said, but January and February see a more marked increase in need and a decrease in donations. In addition, she said they see more people in September as families have to purchase school supplies.
Hartman said the center tries to provide a variety of the necessities of life including food, hygiene products and school supplies.
"By the time school opens, we have more goodies than probably the dollar store. Is it going to make a tremendous difference? Probably not, but it gets kids off on the right foot," Hartman said. "If it's the first day of school and you're the only kid who doesn't have a book bag or whatever, you're first thought it 'I'm different. How can I get out of here?' And you start developing escape behavior."
Hartman said they also serve as a community referral service, connecting people with community businesses or residents who may be able to aid them. Hartman said he thinks Reisterstown is unique among the surrounding areas because of the support of the business community.
"This place has been here for 32 years. That's a lot longer than a lot of centers around here have been, so people rally," Hartman said. "Some of the best people in the business community - a lot of people have lived here all there lives - some of the business people, 30 years ago, got their food from this place and want to give back."