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Food Pantry Demand Up as Benefit Cuts Take Hold

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- Food pantries call this time of year the "giving season" as many groups conduct food drives to fill shelves. But it may take more giving than usual to meet some of the increased demand.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients saw a 13.6 percent cut in benefits beginning the first of November. For a family of four, on what's still largely called food stamps, the reduction adds up to $36.00 per month. And fewer federal dollars is starting to have an impact on area food banks. One organizer summed it upódemand the last few weeks is up and donations haven't kept pace. Now the concern is whether this is a temporary blip as families adjust to the reductions or whether it's the "new normal" that food pantries will have to meet in the future.

At the Linn Community Food Bank, a normal day usually means serving 12 to 20 families. But since the SNAP reductions took effect on November 1st, that daily number is closer to 35.

Dave DeWolf, who oversees the buying and stocking for Linn Community, said this is the time of year when food pantries depend on donor drives to fill shelves that will last until spring or summer. But if donated items go out as fast as they come in, then that's a potential problem.

"Last year we did 11,300 people. We're already at 13,000 right now. I anticipate the end of this month and next month we'll be close to 14,000. We're growing about 20-25 percent a year," DeWolf said.

HACAP's food reservoir supplies 99 programs, like Linn Community, in seven eastern Iowa counties.

Amanda Pieper, HACAP food reservoir director, said she's hearing many of the same stories from different food banks this month.

"My fingers are crossed we'll get through it and this is the peak because it's the first month (of benefit reductions). But it's scary out there," Pieper said.

The three months from October through December are the peak time for food pantry donations. But even in good years, what's given now won't last the whole year.

Pieper said if demand on the food pantries stays high, then one solution may be an emphasis on food drives at other times of the year or asking groups to "double up" on their collections.

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