Food stamp cuts put extra stress on area food banks during holidays

For some, the holidays don’t mean a feast; they’re just trying to feed families

Staff writerNovember 26, 2013 

FOOD BANKS

Jody Cash, right, and volunteer Sarah Merrill select packages of food at St. Leo's Food Connection, which is seeing a traffic spike this year after food stamp cuts.

PETER HALEY — Staff photographer Buy Photo

Some families are scouring supermarket shelves for the perfect turkey for Thanksgiving.

Others are worrying about how they’ll afford food through the end of the month.

With rising food prices, stagnant wages and cuts to benefit programs, the number of people who rely on food banks and soup kitchens is on the rise.

This year, the Nov. 1 cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) coincided with the start of the holiday season. With SNAP, commonly known as the food stamp program, low-income people get a pre-loaded card to use at most grocery stores to buy food. They receive a fixed monthly amount based on their income, living expenses and household size.

More than 1 million Washington residents received SNAP benefits in August, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services.

The cuts are prompting more families and individuals to turn to local food banks to pick up the slack.

“We already see an increase in the number of families that come through this time of year,” said Dawn Whitman, operations coordinator at St. Leo’s Food Connection in Tacoma. “With the cut in the SNAP benefits, there’s been a lot of conversation, a lot of clients coming in … they’re very worried.”

So far this month, the Food Connection has given food to more than 3,600 families.

Among those eating at St. Leo’s soup kitchen and dealing with benefit cuts is Ted Gilman, 46, who lives at a halfway house in Tacoma. His benefits were cut by $11 this month. “Eleven bucks is like three meals for me,” he said.

Gilman now receives $189 a month, which he said lasts about 12 to 15 days.

Tacoma resident Tamara Knarr, 56, comes to St. Leo’s about three times a week to buy essentials for her eight children and four grandchildren. Her SNAP benefits were cut by $150 this month.

"Food prices are getting up there,” Whitman said. “Assistance doesn’t go very far.”

The difference between the assistance people receive through government help and what they need can be great, often because of low-paying jobs, Whitman said.

“So many of them don’t provide a living wage these days,” she said, “so people are just needing that extra support in their community to be able to make ends meet with their families.”

HOW TO HELP

For more information about the St. Leo Food Connection, visit stleoparish.org/ministries/foodconn.htm, or call 253-572-9405.

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