GLENS FALLS — One of the area’s largest distributors of food to the poor could run out of money before Thanksgiving, while local food pantries grapple with greater traffic.
The Greater Glens Falls Salvation Army has, for years, relied on funding from the state Department of Health’s Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP). The $16,000 the Salvation Army received each year from HPNAP in the past kept it operating throughout the year.
But that funding this year was slashed 80 percent, to $3.000.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Major David Dean, with the Salvation Army. “We’ll be out of money by Thanksgiving.”
That means Salvation Army faces a potential holiday season rush in the midst of a funding crises.
Food pantries throughout the state have seen decreases in HPNAP funding over the last four years. The state allocated $33.3 million to the program in 2007-08. That number has dropped to $19.8 million in the current fiscal year, one of hundreds of budget lines cut because of multi-billion dollar deficits.
And need, or at least traffic in local pantries, continues to grow.
Salvation Army has fed $30,000 over the last 11 months, Dean said. That’s up from 28,000 over the same time period in 2010-11.
“We’re hoping to replace cash for cash,” Dean said of the organization’s new push for local donations. “That way, we can buy what we need.”
And the uptick in people who need food isn’t isolated to the Glens Falls group.
Washington County distributes nonperishable foods every month at the county center in Fort Edward.
A few years ago, there would be items left over from the 15,000 pounds of state-subsidized and privately donated food stuffs brought in for the monthly event, according to Salem Supervisor Seth
Pitts, who works with the program.
“Now, it’s gone in two hours,” Pitts said.
Salem’s food pantry, run by a collection of local churches, is the largest local food distribution center in the county.
There have always been busy periods at food pantries — after the winter holidays, a few weeks after school starts because people spend their money on school clothes and the usual end-of-the-month bump when food stamps
run out — but the lulls are becoming less frequent, Pitts said.
“Every week, I’m seeing new faces,” Pitts said of the Salem program. “Participation is skyrocketing.”
Local pantries are also struggling with new federal regulations that limit what types of foods public subsidies can be spent on, Pitts said.
Pantries used to buy canned goods, such as corned beef and beef stew, because they were popular with the people being served.
Many of those high-calorie foods are now banned or restricted, as the federal government looks to combat widespread childhood obesity, which is especially prevalent in poor populations.
The push for more nutritious foods, like locally sourced crops, is draining the funding sources of small pantries.
“It’s a big strain on our funds,” Pitts said.