Kennett Food Cupboard seeing constant increase in families
By CANDICE MONHOLLAN
The Kennett Food Cupboard experiences the same pattern come every winter when the holidays approach: an increase in families due to the lack of jobs.
It has been no different this year, but this time around, the amount coming through their doors has been near record breaking.
“The last couple of months, we’re up to about 500 families a month,” said Melanie Weiler, the executive director of the Food Cupboard. “And a family can only come in once per month. In October, we served over 1,900 people and 515 households.”
The decrease of jobs during the winter months is due to a lot of jobs are seasonal in the summer with outdoor work.
But that’s not to say the summer months don’t bring in a lot of families.
“Over the summer, kids aren’t getting the free and reduce lunch programs at school,” Weiler said. “That really drives the demand up when parents have to provide a lot more food at home.”
A lot of the families who come through the Food Cupboard aren’t even unemployed. Most of them are working poor, Weiler said.
“The cost of living is going up and people’s wages are not,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of people come in who are working two or three jobs, but their hours have been reduced.
“We’ve been growing over the last five years between 11 and 20 percent per year since the recession hit in 2008.”
The Food Cupboard, which is staffed by about 70 people, almost completely all of whom are volunteers, services the entire area, from the Kennett and Unionville-Chadds Ford school districts to Avon Grove.
“We work with other agencies to coordinate and make sure we’re reaching everyone and spreading out the resources a bit,” Weiler said.
What’s unique about the Food Cupboard, which is one of the three largest in the county, is that they are set-up as a choice program.
“A family of four can pick four canned items of vegetables, then there’s cereal, tomato products and pasta,” Weiler said. “On their way out, they can pick a produce, we try to give everybody a half gallon of milk and a protein.”
When hunting is in season, as it is now, the Food Cupboard will have venison to offer as a second option, which is good for you and low in fat.
The Food Cupboard will be ringing in the holiday with its annual Christmas Basket program in New Garden at the maintenance garage on Dec. 21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
It’s a chance for families in need to come get a little variety of Christmas goodies supplied by the Food Cupboard and other places.
“Families that qualify can come in and get coats from the Unionville coat drive,” Weiler said. “Toys for Tots provides toys so the family can pick one or two toys out for each child. We’re getting 1,200 new kids books donated this year. We then give them a box of food and turkey or a chicken.”
They’re expecting to serve about 650 families this year, Weiler said.
Families will receive timed tickets to make sure everyone can go through with a volunteer to help them shop and carry things to their cars.
In order to qualify for assistance from the Food Cupboard, families have to have an income which puts them below 150 percent of the poverty line.
“For a family of four, they have to make a gross income of under $35,325 a year,” Weiler said. “It’s estimated for a family of four that it takes $55,000 to live in Chester County, so our families are in need.”
The number of homeless families in the area has doubled over the last year. Kennett has the second largest population of literal homeless in the county, Weiler said.
“I can’t advocate enough the level of need in the area,” she said. “It’s a quiet problem so most people don’t realize it’s even there.
“We’re in it for a long haul. There is no quick fix to hunger and poverty.”