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Salvation Army food pantry running on empty

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At least 75 families walk into the Salvation Army of Charleston's food pantry each month. By the middle of this month, though, the organization already had served 66 families -- and now the food pantry's shelves are sparse.

"If the rate keeps up like this, that's pretty much doubling what I do in a month's time," said Vandy Justice, social service director at the local Salvation Army. "We have a lot of folks asking for food and not enough sources to give food."

Justice said the food pantry usually is stocked with enough food to serve the hungry families that reach out to the group; food drives at Kanawha and Putnam county schools help a lot in November and December, she said.

The aftermath of the June 29 windstorm, though, cleared out much of the food pantry's inventory, Justice said.

More people visited the food pantry after they had to throw out most of the food in their own powerless refrigerators, she said.

Larger food banks that the Charleston group relies on -- the Mountaineer Food Bank and Huntington Food Bank -- experienced the same loss, cutting down on how much they could donate, Justice said.

"Sometimes, families of eight and 10, the big families, you can't just give them a few cans of food. It's putting a strain on us," Justice said. "We don't want to stop helping people but, at the same time, we're running out of food to help people."

Most people think about donating food during the holidays, but Justice said it's important to remember the needy -- especially those who are hungry -- throughout the year. Some families have had to take money they normally would spend on food and instead buy back-to-school items for their children, she said.

"These people need year-round support. A lot of them are on a fixed income, and that doesn't change," Justice said. "If everyone donates a little bit here or there, it makes me have a fuller pantry.

"Even if you just donate one or two things, someone who can't buy those one or two things is going to be able to eat and their child is going to have another meal."

Food donations the Salvation Army requests are: rice, pasta, including spaghetti and macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, jelly, canned meat, cereal, oatmeal, toaster pastries, canned vegetables and soups.

The Salvation Army of Charleston serves residents of Kanawha, Putnam, Clay and Roane counties. More than 2,000 people visited the group's food pantry in 2011, Justice said.

Donations can be dropped off at The Salvation Army, 301 Tennessee Ave., or at The Salvation Army Thrift Store, 207 Wyoming St., with a note that the donations are for the food pantry. For more information, call 304-343-4548.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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