Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hunger Pangs

Every other Wednesday, my mother volunteers at a food pantry in Gwinnett County. I was supposed to go with her today, but that didn't happen. I was interested in seeing what sort of people relied on food pantries in this economy. The food pantry I was to visit today opened only a year ago. Right down the road is a much larger one run by the local church. The fact that both of them are necessary says volumes. I even benefited from one when I wasn't even seeking the help. I was touched on two levels; surprise and gratitude.

One day I went to MetroTech to see if there was a deferment plan I could sign up for to pay my Con Ed bill. The faceless customer service rep on the other end of the phone told me about the Energy Share program offered by Con Ed. They give grants (free money!) of up to $250 for utility bills. I didn’t know this program existed. There are quite a few programs designed to help people in need. It’s unfortunate that those who really need the help aren’t aware of these programs and aren’t benefiting. There was the usual run around – Con Ed gave me a number to call for Energy Share. The automated voice at that number gave me the addresses and numbers of community centers that you have to visit to apply for the grant…

After applying for the Energy Share grant, the social worker(?) asked if I wanted food from the pantry. She probably noticed the thought process going on in my head, because she shrugged and said, “Why not? It’s free. Take it.” Honestly, I assumed I had to be “down and out” to use a food pantry, not be able to afford food or with babies to feed and what not. There’s no application process for that, but you do have to sign for the food. Once you’ve signed up, you can visit 6 times a year. I don’t know if those same rules apply to all pantries. I left there hoping I’d get my Con Ed bill taken care of and two bags of groceries.

In this economy, two income families are falling behind on bills and food pantries are the only option to put at least one meal on the table or just a way to limit the grocery bill so that money can go towards something else. There are tent cities popping up everywhere due to rising numbers of people losing their homes. Donate to your local food pantry. They accept monetary donations and canned and dry goods. Also consider volunteering your time to distribute food or do inventory. There are even pet food pantries popping up…

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