In a tight economy with food and gas prices in constant flux, many area residents are seeking alternatives to stretching their food budgets, including signing up with area food banks for help.
The Cassville Community Pantry at Cassville United Methodist Church is one organization that is feeling a bit of the strain.
"We are seeing new clients in addition to our regular ones," said Food Pantry Coordinator Janet Mills. "My perception is that there is an emotional concern among our clients. I feel they are more stressed out.
"Rising food and gas prices affect how they manage their economic needs," Mills continued.
Mills said she sees an increase in the number of people carpooling to the food bank or utilizing OATS service in Barry County.
"Another concern many people had was the funding for Ozark Area Community Action Corporation (OACAC)," Mills said. "There was talk of their budget being cut. There is a lot of tension in the community."
The Cassville Community Pantry has partnered with Walmart's Feeding America campaign, so clients can get fresh produce, baked goods, meat and a diverse selection of menu items they otherwise could not afford.
"Our clients appreciate the variety of things we are able to bring to the pantry through partnering with Walmart," Mills said. "We're also spending more money on food items than we have, but we don't hold on to anything. We give it out, and God provides."
Pantry hours are from 9 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday. Senior boxes are distributed monthly, along with USDA commodities.
Clients must meet eligibility requirements for the program, as well as provide a verification of the total number of people residing in the home.
Area businesses and residents now have the opportunity to participate in a new Hunger Challenge sponsored by Community Foundation of the Ozarks (CFO). The foundation has issued a challenge for residents to meet a goal of $3,050, which will be matched by Ozark Food Harvest (OFH).
"That will provide the opportunity to raise $6,100 for local persons in need," Mills said.
The challenge began April 1 and donations will be accepted through Sept. 30.
Approximately 24 percent of Ozark Food Harvest's 28-county region service area are ineligible for government assistance.
"Those who have recently lost their jobs are more affected by recent poverty than those who have been unemployed, underemployed or face serial unemployment," said Bart Brown, executive director and president of Ozarks Food Harvest. "More and more clients who come to food banks are the unemployed middle class who need assistance. Technically, they are not poor, but they don't have any money."
CFO members will have the opportunity to partner with OFH member food pantries in each of their communities to raise funds that will be matched by the Walmart Foundation State Giving Program, according to Brown.
Those interested in making a donation may make checks payable to CFO c/o Hunger Challenge with a note in the memo portion designating the funds toward the Cassville Community Food Pantry campaign. Checks may be mailed to 425 E. Trafficway, Springfield, MO 65806.
Donations are also accepted online at ozarksfoodharvest.org through the link "Food Insecurity Study and Million Dollar Hunger Challenge."
"We have to step up and participate," Mills said. "There is always a need."
Mills is also seeking volunteers to help with program paperwork, greeting clients and packing food boxes.
For more information, contact Mills at the Cassville Community Food Pantry at 847-2328.