BERLIN – Hunger is as serious a problem in Worcester County as the lack of affordable housing, local advocates for the poor and needy say, especially in the winter.
“Food is probably the greatest need that we fill. A lot of people don’t realize there are hungry people around us,” said Darlene Onley of Worcester County GOLD (Giving Other Lives Dignity).
“It’s gotten a lot busier, I’d say, since September,” said Shirley Bradley, manager of the Community Church at Ocean Pines’ food pantry. “We’ve had double what we usually have in the last three months.”
The church’s food pantry normally helps 10 to 15 families a month, but that number has reached 25 to 30 families, she said.
The demand has extended south as well.
“People are needing more help than ever,” said Martha Bivens, director of Helping Hand Outreach Mission in Pocomoke City. “In the past year we’ve had a lot more people who need food.”
When money becomes tight, the high cost of housing in Worcester County and other necessities can stress or diminish a family’s grocery budget, Onley said.
“We’ve been doing this for years. There’s always a need,” said Ed Tinus, director of Delmarva Food Foundation. “We’ll always have the poor especially in the winter months. A lot of the seasonal employment ends. People learn over the years to save but when it gets to the dead of the winter months there’s no work.”
The need for food is there all year round, Tinus said.
“I don’t see too much difference. They might come in more in the winter but we’ve had a lot of people come in in the summer,” Bivens said.
One population Helping Hand sees a lot of are senior citizens.
“They don’t get enough from their social security to help them into the next month,” Bivens said. “That’s why we picked the fourth Friday of each month to give out food, so they’d have something to hold them over till their check comes around.”
Bradley said, “Times are tough for everyone. Most who come in have lost a job, or their husband has lost a job, or they’re struggling to make ends meet with both working.”
Worcester County GOLD does not give out food, instead referring people to the several food pantries in the county, Onley said, but those in need cannot always get there. In some cases, the organization offers gift cards to local food stores to those with acute needs.
The Delmarva Food Foundation, which provides food to the food pantries, not individuals, is also seeing a burgeoning demand.
Recently, volunteers from Punchoteague Community Church’s food pantry in Virginia traveled north to the foundation’s warehouse in Willards for three truckloads of groceries.
“They took a 70-mile drive to come up here to get food,” Tinus said.
Although Worcester County has several food pantries, most are open just a few days a week or by appointment. Some are open only one day a month. Food banks are not a long-term solution, as they cannot provide more than a few days of food per family.
“They’re still wondering where their next meal is coming from,” said Tinus.
People need more long-term help, Bivens said, but she did not mean more food. Helping Hand tries to counsel customers about their problems, and teach them about budgeting so they do not have to rely on the food pantry.
“We can only do so much,” Bradley said.
The pantries themselves are dependent on the kindness of others or low-cost purchasing agreements.
“All our food is donated,” said Bradley. “The only thing we pay for is the meat, and that it gotten with the thrift shop’s profits.”