By Shelley Grieshop
Christmas isn't looking too merry for the needy in Mercer County.
Area residents, as well as government agencies, dug deep into their pockets early this fall to aid hurricane victims down south, but the end result has left bare shelves at many local food pantries.
"Right now we're relying on what area people give us," says Pastor Kenny Baker, director of CALL Food Pantry in Celina.
West Ohio Food Bank in Lima, the local food pantries' main source of supplies, has significantly cut the number of items available to pantries and food kitchens across Ohio since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in late August. West Ohio is funded by several sources including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, who continue to help victims in the south .
"They're giving us less 'edible' items and items with less shelf life," says Baker, who also is a member of the board of trustees of the West Ohio Food Bank. The lack of supplies is visible; 10 boxes of cereal were all that remained on the metal shelving units this morning. Even jars of peanut butter -- a great source of protein and a favorite of youngsters -- were dwindling in number.
CALL received more than 1,600 donated items from various sources this month, Baker says. Although that may seem like a lot, one item can be as small as a bag of Ramon Noodles or a can of green beans.
The shortage problem escalated after the government raised the poverty level for the third time this year, Baker said. A family of four making less than $744 per week before taxes is now eligible for government assistance.
Although more people can receive aid such as food stamps, the action also has sent more families to food pantries where they verify that eligibility and expect help, Baker says.
"Our numbers (clients) are up 20 percent since the beginning of the year," he explains.
CALL, based in Celina for 27 years, is currently helping about 400 families each month, giving food and other items to approximately 1,400 adults and children. There also are smaller food pantries at OUR Home and the Native American Indian Center, both in Celina, and Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Coldwater.
Other areas across the state are in the same boat. Lay-offs, which haven't been the case locally, have steered many Dayton-area families to food pantries, according to a recent story in the Dayton Daily News.
Mercer County fortunately does not have that problem. The county boasted the lowest unemployment rate in the state in October at 3.7 percent and has consistently been on the low side most of the year.
Baker said donations from local churches, school groups, Scouts, as well as food distributors such as Boeckman and Gast in St. Henry, continue to arrive and he and his volunteer staff are grateful for that. But they fear it won't be enough to get them by this holiday season.
"We don't turn anyone in need away, but it's getting harder and harder to keep enough supplies on hand," Baker adds.
Anyone interested in donating to the food pantry can call 419-586-3574 or bring items to the office at 112 N. Main St. Office hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays.