With an increase in the number of layoffs occurring in southwest Missouri and a decrease in the number of jobs available, many local residents are struggling just to put food on the table this year. Three area food pantries are working overtime to meet the increased need for assistance.
"There has definitely been an escalation in need," said Janet Mills, Cassville United Methodist Church (UMC) secretary, who coordinates the food pantry program. "It has been very noticeable that many people are struggling due to unemployment and the number of layoffs that have occurred. We are seeing a much higher demand for assistance as more local residents lose their jobs."
The number of individuals seeking assistance at local food banks has nearly doubled, but church members and local community members have risen to the challenge to support local food pantries.
"This time of year people really like to donate," said Mills. "Sometimes we wish it were more consistent throughout the year, but God has always provided for this ministry."
The Cassville food pantry, which is supported by the Cassville UMC congregation and members of St. Edwards Catholic Church, also receives donations from local businesses, organizations and individuals.
"We received some large donations in December," said Mills. "Hutchens Construction Company gave us a very nice jack. Donations are always an issue though. We have been buying a lot of food for our emergency food pantry. We probably spend an average of $500 per month to stock the shelves."
As the need for assistance in other areas of the county have increased, community members from the Shell Knob and Eagle Rock areas have also dug deeper into their pockets to provide for those less fortunate.
"The response has been amazing," said Dean Wilson, pastor of the Central Community UMC in Shell Knob. "The bulk of the community members who live here are retired people who have passion and energy for helping those in need."
The Central Community UMC receives support from community members through its Alliance of Churches Ministry. The program receives food items and monetary contributes through several local churches and individuals.
"The local grocery store has a bin that people can put food items in," said Dean Wilson. "A lot of people buy items and put them in and it really fills up. Others write checks or just give us money for food. This is all significant to us."
All Faith UMC Pastor Nancy Wilson reported seeing a similar response in the Eagle Rock community.
"The donations have equaled the need so far," said Nancy Wilson. "We have been so pleased that the community has responded the way it has."
The Eagle Rock-based food pantry is supported by private donations and the congregations of five churches in the Eagle Rock-Golden-Mano area.
"We receive support from the Community Connection Thrift Store," said Nancy Wilson. "We also have several organizations that take up regular collections for the food pantry, like the Eagle Rock Fire Department."
The Cassville and Shell Knob churches also distribute United States Department of Agriculture commodities to local individuals who need assistance.
"The federal commodities are distributed once a month," said Mills. "These items are provided by the government to help low-income and needy families in our county."
Through the federal program, Cassville UMC has been able to provide around six different food items to individuals each month for the last few years. This year, new legislation has allowed the church to increase the number of items distributed to 19.
"This makes a huge difference," said Mills. "Now people even receive frozen meat items. We have never gotten this much before."
Although Central Community UMC only provides individuals with four or five different food items through the federal commodities program, the church purchases other items through Ozark Food Harvest for 18 cents per pounds plus freight.
"The primary source of funding for the extra food is the Thrifty Closet, (located in the Bridgeway Plaza in Shell Knob)," said Dean Wilson. "People donate used clothing and other items to the store, which is run by women from the church and the community who volunteer their time."
In addition to providing funding for food items, money collected at the Thrifty Closet benefits the community through utility bill assistance and college scholarship programs.
Community members interested in supporting any of the food pantries can do so by calling one of the churches to schedule a donation drop off time or discuss volunteering opportunities. Monetary donations can also be mailed to any of the churches.
Individuals in need of assistance are encouraged to call the Cassville UMC at 847-6427, the Central Community UMC at 417-858-6707 or the All Faith UMC at 271-3737.
Cassville UMC distributes federal commodities from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month, and Central Community UMC distributes food items on the fourth Friday of each month.