America's food pantries find rising need leading to empty shelves as Thanksgiving arrives

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Food pantries across the country are giving out more food than ever, pictured above, as support dries up because of the rough economy. (Photo by Flickr user Billy Brown, cc-by-sa.)

As many Americans prepare to sit down for what is often the largest and most elaborate meal of the year, a growing number of Americans are facing the prospect of not knowing where their next meal will come from.

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Food pantries across the country are reporting skyrocketing demand at the same time government funding and private donations are drying up. Rebekah McGee, program director for emergency assistance of Action in Community Through Service said her organization has seen a nearly 40 percent increase in the number of children needing food assistance and a 30 percent increase overall.

"We're seeing a lot of the working poor in our offices now. The face has changed," she said.

Mary Insprucker, northwest regional director for Catholic Charities, agreed with McGee. They call these people the new needy.

"These are folks who used to volunteer, used to give donations," she said. "Now they find themselves standing in the same line as the folks they used to help."

The situation reached a crisis level for McGee's group a little while ago. They found their shelves were bare and planned a two-week shutdown while they tried to rebuild their inventory. 

"We were blessed to only have to close them for one week because of the flood of donations we received," McGee said. "We live in a generous community, unfortunately the donations weren't keeping up with the increase in demand, unfortunately it came to the point our shelves were bare."

The problem, though, is that during the holidays, when people are thinking about food, donation tend to inch upward. But hunger doesn't really decline in other times of the year.

"Hunger is an everyday occurrence for these folks," Insprucker said.

So the pantries are stuck trying to do the best they can to make the food last longer and go farther than it used to. And for the people they can help, it oftn makes all the different in the world.

"One person came in and got the last Thanksgiving turkey we had. You would have thought somebody gave her a million dollars," Insprucker said. "When she walked in the door, she didn't know if she'd be having any sort of Thanksgiving dinner."

To find a food pantry near you, to donate to or to see about receiving food assistance, visit feedingamerica.org.