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Summer fueling need
As mercury rises, so does traffic at food banks
food pantry donations 1 jd
Linda Crenshaw and her son Bradley, hand over their canned goods as Meg Rueden gives out free popcorn and Chick Fil A coupons before the Thursday morning free family films start at Movies 400 in Cumming. - photo by Jim Dean
Local hunger has not weaned.
Since last summer's drought, which left many landscape and construction workers unemployed, food pantries have taken on a steadily increasing load.
"We're averaging about 145 families for food each month, not the number of bags, and last year the average would have been more like 100," said Sandy Beaver, director of The Place of Forsyth County.
The Place is one of several local nonprofit organizations assisting residents in tight spots.
At first glance, it may seem the need would not be that great in Forsyth County, recently rated the 13th wealthiest county in the nation.  But last year, the pantries and The Place and Cumming First United Methodist Church fed about 17,000 families.
"Our food needs have definitely increased and the economic factors have been a major contributing factor," she said.
"The increase in gas prices and the increase in food costs. And typically here at The Place, when school is out, families need more food."
Pantry representatives from The Place, Cumming First United Methodist and First Christian churches, as well as Abba House have all reported an increase during the last few months.
Their theories about why have varied.
Janet Walden, from Cumming First United Methodist Church, said children who typically eat free or reduced lunch during the school year are now at home for summer.
"I just saw that there was a slight increase over the last few months," said Maryanne Yeary, administrative director at Abba House. "Obviously, we need all the help we can get, too."
While most pantries can only give one bag of food, per family, on a weekly or monthly basis, Yeary said Abba House gives a 25-pound box of food for one or two individuals. In other words, a family of six can get up to three, 25-pound boxes.
The need could stem from higher fuel costs, or it could be that there are less food drives this time of year.
One thing pantries have in common is that none of the clients have much in common. There is no specific age group, ethnic background or sex dominating the pantries.
Clients range from elderly on a fixed income and single mothers to recently divorced families and residents who have been laid off. It's local do-gooders that help keep these pantries afloat.
"We're doing OK," Beaver said. "We're able to meet the need right now because people call us and say, 'What do you need?'
"One lady came in and she'd seen something on television about how the economy was affecting local food banks," Beaver said. "She went to the grocery store and purchased about $200 worth of food and two bags of cat food and dog food because she saw people were having trouble feeding their pets."
While first-time clients at food banks are increasing, they aren't particularly thrilled to be there.
"We still get people that say, 'I've never had to do this before and are still embarrassed,'" said Walden, adding that about a third of her recipients are new.
Residents can help by donating popular food bank goods, such as peanut butter, spaghetti sauce, cereal, boxed desserts, rice and dried beans.
Local gardeners can also help by contributing their fresh fruits and veggies the morning before pantries are scheduled to distribute.
Aside from produce that has been canned at home, there are no restrictions on donating crops.
Evie Norton, a volunteer at First Christian Church's food pantry, advised that people should donate something they would want their own family to eat.