Directors at local food cupboards say their client bases have grown this holiday season because of the increase in layoffs during the recession."We've seen a dramatic increase in clients," said Donna Hartman, food cupboard coordinator at the Cares Food Network in West Chester. "A lot of people are getting laid off and also not getting their food stamps, which has contributed to the increase."
In October 2007, the food bank at Cares Food Network served 798 people from 273 families, according to Hartman. This October, the food bank served 1,020 people from 315 families, she said.
Making matters worse, there-has also been a dramatic decrease in donations this holiday season, according to Hartman.
"Some of the big corporations that make donations haven't done it because they are also laying off people," said Hartman.
"People are very desperate out there," Jan Leaf, the Lord's Pantry director said.
Every year, the pantry allows eligible parents to fill out a sheet for Christmas gift requests for their children. The cutoff date is in September.
"This year, it's still coming," Leaf said, and the pantry is seeing more requests for clothing and bedding gifts rather than toys.
Several corporations, including McNeil Laboratories, that usually make donations to their associates are making the donations to the pantry, Leaf said. The pantry is not lacking donations right now.
"But after the holidays we will," Leaf said.
The increase in clients stems from layoffs, including some people whose jobs have been eliminated and never got a call back from employers, according to Carol Berger, of Phoenixville. She said many people also have had their hours cut or experienced cuts or eliminations to job benefits.
Between July and October, 110 families "that have never used our services before" sought the cupboard's help, Berger said.
In addition to food services, the cupboard helps with heat, utilities, electric and sewer problems if services are shut off or about to be shut off, according to Berger.
During the 2007 holiday season, the Kennett Area Community Services and Food Cupboard served 1,500 families, according to Executive Director Sandy Reynolds. This year that increased to 2,000 families, she said.
"We saw a lot of it (the increase) this past fall," Reynolds said. "We have people we haven't seen before or people who are back after many years."
Reynolds attributed the increase in clients last fall from the high cost of oil to heat homes and gasoline prices.
"This year is the first year we can't do any more food baskets," she said. "I really have to draw the line."
Last year, Kennett cupboard made 400 food baskets during the holiday season, according to Reynolds. This year the food cupboard made 600 baskets.
"We've increased the baskets because we anticipated the need, but the need is greater than what we anticipated," Reynolds said.
Like other food cupboards in Chester County, there has been a decrease in donations.
"Last August, the cupboards were bare," Reynolds said. "It was critical. I made phone calls to a couple of churches in the area and we've been fine since then."
The number of people using services at a cupboard in Coatesville has doubled, according to Elsie Spann, an adviser to volunteers at Coatesville Emergency Food.
"We've seen an increase in the people but not in the donations," Spann said.
In Oxford, there's also been an increase in residents using food cupboard services.
"We have had a 40 percent increase in the number of requests for food from our food cupboard for the first four months of our fiscal year which started in July over the same time period last year," said Cheryl McDonnell, executive director for the Oxford Area Neighborhood Services, in an e-mail message.
"Donations of food during September and October were down significantly, but donations have increased in November and so far in December. Donations have come from individuals as well as food collections from churches, schools and local organizations, including the Southern Chester County YMCA."
In November 2007, the Oxford cupboard provided food to 39 households, according to McDonnell. This November, the cupboard served 55 households, she said.
McDonnell said monetary donations from individuals for the food cupboard and the center's other programs have seen a decrease over last year.
"While we have seen some monetary donations from local churches being scaled back, other local churches have increased their monetary support," McDonnell said.