More than 140,000 families in Pierce County were impacted Nov. 1, when federal cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program went into effect.
A temporary increase to the food benefits program, known as Basic Food in Washington state, began in April 2009 as part of the federal government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That stimulus funding expired Oct. 31.
The state Department of Social and Health Services said a family of three that receives the maximum benefit amount in Pierce County would see a reduction of $29 a month, from $526 to $497. That means a reduction could force families to turn to food banks even more.
“For the federal cuts they’re considering, that means it will fall back on the food banks,” said Shanna Peterson, the director of operations at the Puyallup Food Bank. “If they’re cutting these services way back, their only resource will be us.”
Peterson said following cases such as a government shutdown, a period of mass layoffs or, in the case of federal cuts to SNAP, demand isn’t really felt at the food banks for three weeks or a month following the crisis.
“People will tap into their reserves,” Peterson said. “We are their last resort. Ninety-nine percent of the people coming to us would rather not come to us.”
That said, Peterson said the number of families who use food bank services increased 30 percent through the end of September compared to the same time last year. Peterson said the Puyallup Food Bank provided 779,000 meals during that time. To add to it, the food bank distributed 149,000 meals last month — 189,000 pounds of food.
About 1,400 to 1,600 families are being served monthly this year, up from 300 to 400 families per month in 2010.
Peterson said the food bank has only two turkeys and a scarce amount of holiday meal food items. But she said what’s most important is to ensure families who come in on a monthly basis receive a minimum of 12 everyday meals per person in their family.
Peterson said it’s important that the food bank is supplied with enough food to get families through the spring months.
“This is the time of year when we need to stock up for March and April,” she said. “In March and April, it’s hard to get the public to understand that people are hungry.”
Cash donations or grocery gift card donations are appreciated the most, Peterson said. Cash donations are tax-deductible.
“For every $1 donated, we’re able to distribute $12 to $15 worth of food,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Puyallup Food Bank is supported by donors and more than 100 active volunteers. Misty Bulley, who started at the food bank in October 2011, volunteers for four hours on Wednesdays.
“I have the opportunity to sort through and repackage produce from Costco and whatever comes our way,” Bulley said. “I’m really serious in trying to keep any safety net working in the community.”
Bulley said people who are in crisis often are very emotional, especially when it’s the first time they’ve visited a food bank.
“I listen to them and encourage them, and let them know that we’re here for them,” she said.
If you donate
To learn how to donate to the Puyallup Food Bank, visit www.puyallupfoodbank.org/donate. Cash can be mailed to Puyallup Food Bank, P.O. Box 202, Puyallup, WA 98371. If you need food, click on the “getting food” link at www.puyallupfoodbank.com. Appointments are mandatory for those who need to pick up items.