For many, the holiday season is a time to gather with family and friends and share a special meal.
A warm holiday meal might be even more special to those who are down and out. Food banks and homeless shelters around the area say the need is increasing and meeting those needs is increasingly challenging.
The holidays, coupled with other factors, compound the problem of food insecurity in the winter months. Budgets are strained as heating costs go up, as well as health care costs as people become ill, particularly the elderly and disabled on fixed incomes, said Rod Wieber, chief resource officer at Second Harvest Food Bank.
“As we get into the winter months, the need just continues to rise so much more,” Wieber said. “I think we’re definitely going to be entering a very challenging period where there are more people turning out to our food banks for assistance.”
To bolster their bounty, Second Harvest on Saturday teamed with hundreds of Boy Scouts, who collected food from neighborhoods around Spokane and North Idaho. As of Saturday evening, they netted about 80,000 pounds in the Spokane area, close to what was donated last year, Wieber said. It’s not too late to donate, however; those wishing to do so can bring their donations to any Rosauers location.
At the Our Place Ministries food bank, which is preparing 500 Thanksgiving baskets, the number of people seeking assistance has increased 11 percent from last year, while the amount of food distributed has dropped by 3 percent, said development director Tracie Swanson.
“The amount of pounds we serve are down,” she said. “The number of people we serve has gone up, so we don’t have as much food to give to people.”
Swanson said they are always short on proteins such as eggs, cheese, canned meats and beans.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, many food banks are especially in need of turkeys.
The Union Gospel Mission needs turkeys for the second citywide Thanksgiving dinner at the Spokane Convention Center, held the day before Thanksgiving. Organizers hope to feed 800 to 1,200 people. They are also in need of fixings – coffee, butter, sugar, brown sugar, yams, dinner rolls and salad – to make the massive feast come together.
“It’s not just for the homeless, but it’s for people who don’t have anyone to celebrate with and are on a fixed income and are victims of our economic crunch right now,” said Dean Whisler, the mission’s social services manager. “The big thing is we need a whole bunch of turkeys, real quick.”
They moved the holiday meal to the convention center when it outgrew the mission. Last year they served about 600 meals.
The story is the same at the Community Action Partnership in Coeur d’Alene: more people to feed, less food to do it with.
In October, 89,501 pounds of food were donated to the food bank, but 105,424 pounds were distributed. The organization needs about 3,500 turkeys, said program manager Carolyn Shewfelt. So far, they have 350.
Adding to the need? Thanksgiving and Christmas come at the end of the month, when many people are out of food stamps, she said.
“We’re seeing so many more homeless people,” she said. “We’re seeing people who lived in nice neighborhoods living in their cars with their kids. Does that mean they don’t deserve a nice Thanksgiving?”