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With gas prices whirling toward $4 and with grocery prices chomping at family wallets, more and more suburban residents are seeking help to put food on their tables.
Soup kitchens, food pantries, and other outreach efforts in several suburban areas in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan are providing services to an increasing number of participants, largely as a result of the less-than-ideal economic situation.
It's a double whammy as outreach programs stretch resources, and at least one area food pantry has cut its services for up-and-down reasons: demand is up and donations are down.
When its shelves emptied, the Bowling Green Christian Food Pantry made a tough decision to cut back and serve less, and that will continue until additional donations come in, said Shirley Woessner, director of the food pantry.
"I'm sure we are not the only pantry in need," Mrs. Woessner said.
Instead of giving food to recipients every two months, that has been revised to every three months. In addition, a teen member of a family now counts as one person, rather than two as in the past. Parents of teens likely would agree that counting a teen as two people when it comes to servings of food was a generous gesture.
"We will serve people, but we do not have as much to give," she said, noting people are "happy with what we give them, but it makes us feel bad we can't give as much. It bothers me. We are taking measures we have never taken before."
At the Bowling Green food pantry, "we had empty shelves, not totally empty, but emptier than we like to see them," Mrs. Woessner said. "It's the lowest we've ever been."
In August, the food pantry served 133 families, down from the normal 140 to 150 monthly figure, but the 133 families included a total of 387 people. "That is the most we ever have had in a month," she said. "We are talking men, women, children, grandparents."
She attributes the rising numbers, and the decline in donations, to the stalled economy. "More people are laid off. If people are lucky enough to have a job, they have to pay rent, utilities, and gas for the car to go back and forth to work, and that does not leave much for food," Mrs. Woessner said. "We are seeing more people coming in, and some are people who have never been here. Some are saying they are embarrassed and they never thought they would see themselves in that position."
Mrs. Woessner said donations of food to the Bowling Green Christian Pantry typically pick up in the fall when Boy Scouts conduct food drives, and during the holidays, when various groups make donations.
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To help restock the pantry's shelves, the Flower Basket and the Downtown Farmers' Market in Bowling Green asked people to donate nonperishable food items during a food drive last week. To draw attention to the growing need for more food for the pantry, items were displayed in the Flower Basket shop's window.
The food drive was "something that needed to be done," said Maryann Sandusky Gibson, owner of the Flower Basket. "People don't have food and the B.G. Christian Pantry is absolutely a wonderful resource to help people when people are hitting hard times. Bowling Green is all about being there for each other when people need help."
A lot of people these days are "trying to make gas payments, mortgage payments, and there is no money left to feed their families," Mrs. Gibson said. "If you need food, that's what the food pantry is all about. The work we do is to help anybody who needs a helping hand of some sort."
The Bowling Green Christian Food Pantry is particularly in need of soup and ramen; macaroni and cheese; juice; tuna; any canned meats; beef stew; box dinners; stuffing and potatoes; rice; dry beans; spaghetti and sauce; cereal; peanut butter; jelly; peas; cake mixes and frosting, and condiments including ketchup, mustard, and barbecue sauce.
Many other food pantries, some located in churches, distribute groceries to people in need in area communities, such as Perrysburg, Pemberville, Rossford, Walbridge, and Bradner, Mrs. Woessner said.