Chattanooga Salvation Army's food pantry running on empty

Chattanooga Salvation Army's food pantry running on empty

August 15th, 2014 by Hannah Smith in Local Regional News

The Salvation Army is calling for food donations after its food pantry hit a record low in Chattanooga.

Photo by Logan Foll/Times Free Press.

Melissa Mitchell describes the contents of Salvation Army food bags.

Photo by Logan Foll/Times Free Press.

HOW TO GIVE

People wishing to donate can bring money or food directly to the Salvation Army's location at 822 McCallie Ave., or can donate online at www.csarmy.org. Monetary donations can also be given over the phone, at 1-800-SALARMY.

The pantry particularly needs:

• Peanut butter

• Dry or canned milk

• Canned meats

• Pre-packaged meals that require few extra ingredients

• Hearty soup

• Rice

• Beans

• Cereal/oatmeal

• Pasta/pasta sauce

• Canned fruit or vegetables

Perishable food items cannot be accepted because there is no way to refrigerate them.

When case manager Melissa Mitchell opened the door to the Chattanooga Salvation Army's food pantry Thursday, she revealed a room with barren shelves.

A few stacks of canned vegetables stood on one shelf, while a dozen boxes of oatmeal rested on a second. On a third sat a small stack of spaghetti boxes. Mitchell said she has never seen the pantry look so empty.

The night before, Sandy Leavell, director of social services, went shopping to try and fill the shelves enough to get by.

"Most of the time, I'm just purchasing something to supplement," Leavell said. "For about the last month, I've pretty much been just having to buy it."

The food pantry relies almost entirely on donations, both in actual food and in checks or gift cards, donated or purchased with federal grant money. But with all of the necessities the organization has needed to buy this summer, Leavell said that money is running out, too.

Kimberly George, director of marketing and development, said donations usually dip in the summer as families go on vacation or stretch to afford school supplies. But George said the need has been increasing at the same time.

"What we're finding is a lot of folks who have never been in need before are coming to us," she said.

Many of the new clients are grandparents suddenly needing to take care of their grandchildren despite fixed incomes, George said. The rate of grandparents as primary caregivers to grandchildren is about 8 percent higher in Tennessee than the national average, according to a study from childtrends.org.

Leavell said that although grandparents may be able to afford their own needs, sometimes their money won't stretch to cover the increased cost of grandchildren -- especially in the summer when kids stay home.

"All of a sudden we have a person who was providing food for themselves, and now they're providing food for seven people," she said.

George also attributed the increase to people who have lost their jobs or had hours cut, so that they must choose between keeping the lights on or paying for food.

There are other food pantries in the area, the largest being the Chattanooga Area Food Bank. The food bank has its own food pantry and serves as a distributor to area pantries for a small cost.

Jessica Sullivan, spokeswoman for the food bank, said their donations have risen this summer. She attributed the growth due mostly to efforts by the food bank to raise money and have more food drives throughout the summer.

Each month, the Salvation Army food pantry can write up to 40 vouchers for its clients to use at the food bank. But Mitchell said those vouchers have run out, "and it's only the 14th [of August]."

With money drying up and food scarce on the shelves, George said the Salvation Army will have to start turning families away unless the community helps out.

"We run out of food, we have to turn folks around, and they have to find food from other agencies or go without," she said. "This is Chattanooga, Tennessee. Folks should not have to be hungry."

Contact staff writer Hannah Smith at hsmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.