Heading into a holiday that's all about food, demand for assistance at God's Storehouse is rising as inflation takes a bite at the nonprofit organization.
The Danville-based food pantry is "in really good shape" for this time of year, Executive Director Karen Harris told the Register & Bee this week, especially after food collection drives from businesses and church groups. But Harris knows donations will "dry up" after the new year rolls in.
With food costs stuck at a stubbornly high level, God's Storehouse is experiencing a 10% increase in people coming in for help. The food pantry is assisting about 107 families a day, up from about 88 last year at this time, Harris said.
Some families are still receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — commonly known as food stamps — but Harris noted those will come to an end soon.
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With funds flowing during the coronavirus pandemic, food pantries experienced a decline in people coming in for help. That trend is starting to reverse, especially with surging prices.
Come Thursday, putting out a traditional Thanksgiving spread will cost about 16% more than compared to last year, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation reported this week. For 10 people, the meal prices at $73.91.
The survey indicates turkey costs alone have jumped 12%, and Virginia residents will pay about $28 for a 16-pound bird.
That rising costs means a holiday meal could be out of reach for some families, according to Virginia Farm Bureau.
“We never want to see anyone struggling to afford meals, much less during the holiday season,” Virginia Farm Bureau Federation President Wayne F. Pryor said in a statement. “As we come together to celebrate Virginia’s agricultural bounty at Thanksgiving, let’s not forget about our neighbors in need."
So far, God's Storehouse has handed out more than 400 turkeys for local families.
“We’ve purchased them or had them donated, so we’re doing OK on turkeys this year,” she said. “We only give them to our regular customers because we have limited amounts.”
In 2015, a shortage of meat almost meant a Thanksgiving without the centerpiece. However, a rally from the community — following a story in the Register & Bee — saved the holiday.
“Everything costs more,” Harris said, noting the nonprofit isn't immune from the inflation impacts. While donations play a major part, they still have to purchase about 20% of the food they give out.
And with elevated prices, money doesn't go as far as it used to.
“We buy food from Feeding Southwest Virginia and a wholesaler out of Minnesota, but with the wholesaler we have to buy a half truckload at a time, which is $20,000, or a whole truckload, which can be $100,000,” she explained via email. “We recently started buying from Universal Food Source, but we have to get a minimum of four pallets, and the variety is limited.”
The holiday season is always a bustling time for the nonprofit, and Harris expects this year to be no different.
Besides always needing donations — in the form of food or money — God's Storehouse also is searching for people to help with all aspects of the food pantry operation.
“We absolutely need volunteers,” she said. “We need people who can lift, push and pull.”
Beyond volunteering, God's Storehouse is looking for a part-time driver and a substitute driver. Those people will pick up food from 8 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday, Harris said.
Donations also help keep the organization — including the building and vehicles — operating.
“Our utility bill runs about $4,600 a month and gas about $400 a month," Harris explained. "Then we, of course, have to pay for telephones and office supplies."
Right now, there's a garage door experiencing problems and a van in need of repairs, adding to the list of financial needs.
After Thanksgiving, when attention turns to the holiday shopping season, Harris hopes residents will donate to God's Storehouse on Giving Tuesday.
Launched in 2012 the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, it was simple idea: "a day to encourage people to do good," according to Giving Tuesday's website.
It has since blossomed into a worldwide movement mostly centered on helping nonprofit organizations lost in the holiday shuffle of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
“God’s Storehouse uses the money we collect that day to pay for our fuel for the next year," she said. We are hoping to raise $6,500 this Giving Tuesday to cover those costs."
To make a donation, mail checks to God’s Storehouse at P.O. Box 48 Danville, VA 24541 or donate online at godsstorehouse.org.