Floyd County food pantries are serving more with less these days.
The national Emergency Food and Shelter program, established by the Jobs Stimulus Bill in 1983, is geared to “supplement and expand ongoing efforts to provide shelter, food and supportive services” for people who are homeless and hungry in the U.S.
Funds from this program are open to all organizations that provide food to people in need. This program sent out emails in June notifying agencies about funding available this year.
The Floyd County Emergency Food and Shelter Board is one of thousands of boards across the U.S. that receives and distributes this funding. The funds are split between eight food pantries that are members of this board in Floyd County. Collectively, these pantries serve thousands of Floyd County residents each year.
In June, the Floyd County Emergency Food and Shelter Board received $17,182, which is about $4,700 less than it received last year and about $6,160 less than the amount received in 2017 from this national program.
The national board uses poverty data, as well as unemployment data, to determine funding for community boards each year. But the unemployment data, local pantry officials say, is skewed because it does not include people who are unemployed by are no longer receiving unemployment benefits.
“The FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) money coming into the food pantries is based on the number of people who are receiving unemployment benefits. After they are on the roll for three years, they’re taken off. They no longer receive benefits and they’re no longer counted as unemployed,” said Rev. Sr. Judy Yunker, who oversee the Fishes and Loaves Food Pantry at St. James Episcopal Church in Prestonsburg.
That pantry, which offers a pantry and a soup kitchen every Tuesday between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., serves between 150 to 200 people. The church opens its thrift store every Tuesday, selling small items to help offset the cost of the food pantry, but officials say those sales aren’t enough to sustain the need.
“We’re having to make a push to get the community involved because we can’t, our small church can’t sustain it,” Yunker said. “See we’re only allowed to spend two percent of what we get from FEMA on overhead, and our bill in July for electricity (in the pantry) was $288. Where is that supposed to come from? Well, in the government’s mind, it’s supposed to come from the church, or whoever has the pantry.”
Yunker said most of the people who receive food from Fishes and Loaves are 65 years or older, and the food stamp benefits are less than $20 per month.
“This one grandmother is taking care of two teenagers, they’re 13, and she gets $31 a month for the three of them in food stamps,” she said. “So, the thing that we’re having more of are emergency baskets, where people have gotten their once-a-month and they’ve run out.”
Renee Thornsberry, who chairs the Floyd County Emergency Food and Shelter Board, said a decline in funding over the past several years has caused the closures of food pantries in Betsy Layne, Maytown, Wheelwright and, most recently, Town Branch in Prestonsburg.
“Most of them closed because they just couldn’t afford it no more,” Thornsberry said. “They couldn’t run it.”
Thornsberry, director of Heaven’s Harvest Food Pantry, said when pantries close, neighboring pantries adopt those clients and start providing food for them.
The federal grant was established to help pantries annually, Thornsberry said, but funding allotments were stalled because of government shutdowns and other reasons, so the funds announced in June are actually for the 2018 fiscal year.
She said the federal grant has “turned into a almost reimbursement grant,” explaining that the funds are released to after pantries have already spent the funds.
Thornsberry said the federal grant fluctuates every year.
“It goes by unemployment, which is always a pseudo kind of deal because people come off of unemployment, they don’t draw it anymore, but that don’t mean they’ve got a job,” she said.
She said Heaven’s Harvest serves between 90 and 120 people per month, and she’s had to get creative to find ways to fund the need.
To compensate for the lack in funding, Thornsberry relies on Facebook, where she encourages residents to host birthday fundraisers for the food pantry and lets followers know when residents have specific needs.
She said Floyd County food pantries could not continue to serve people in need without the Floyd County Bar Association, which hosts an annual fundraiser for the Floyd County Emergency Food and Shelter Board.
“I’ll tell you who does it for us, the lawyers at the end of the year,” Thornsberry said. “If it wasn’t for them, a lot of our pantries, probably, would be closed in this area.”
Donations may be sent to:
Auxier Food Pantry
21 South River Street
Auxier, Ky. 41602
Fishes & Loaves Food Pantry
214 S. Central Avenue
Prestonsburg, Ky. 41653
Heaven’s Harvest Food Pantry
P.O. Box 394
Martin, Ky. 41649
P.O. Box 434
Allen, Ky. 41601
Development Club Food Pantry
65 Granny Fitz Branch
Prestonsburg, Ky. 41653
Community Health Corporation Food Pantry
P.O. Box 129
Prater Creek Food Pantry
1561 Mare Creek Rd.
St. Vincent Mission Food Pantry
P.O. Box 232