Non-profit sees greater need for food assistance

Cuts in federal food stamp assistance blamed

November 29, 2013

Flickr/Kozumel
Families in need of food assistance saw cuts in their food stamp allotments this month. At least one local anti-hunger organizations cites that as a reason for a sharp increase in food aid that it distributes.

It’s been a holiday season of breaking records at A Just Harvest, a Rogers Park nonprofit that feeds the hungry.

The organization serves hot dinner daily to anyone who shows up, but during the run-up to Thanksgiving and Christmas it also distributes “holiday kits,” uncooked turkeys and traditional fixings, to families that want to prepare the foods at home.

“Saturday we gave away turkeys and kits, and we had folks lined up for two blocks,” said Rev. Marylin Pagan-Banks, executive director of A Just Harvest. “People lining up and standing in the cold and bearing the weather in order to provide for their families.”

Pagan-Banks said the organization had never seen that before, and that by Thanksgiving week it had already distributed 305 of the kits, with four weeks to go until Christmas.

Last year, A Just Harvest gave away 380 kits for the two holidays together —a number that it seems certain to beat this year.

In part, Pagan-Banks blames cuts that kicked in this month to the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, also known as the food stamp program.

Congress declined to renew an increase in funding to the program that had gone into effect in 2009 as part of the Recovery Act. For a family of four, this amounts to $36 less per month of food assistance.

“Folks already struggle towards the end of the month, because the allotment wasn’t enough to start with,” said Pagan-Banks. “And so it’s the end of the month, and it’s a holiday where traditionally there are different types of food that are eaten, they cost more, turkeys are not cheap, and there’s just no way to make ends meet.”

Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her @oyousef and @WBEZoutloud.