York County Food Bank grapples with growing need amid shutdown

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch

Red Lion resident Timi Bond lined up outside the York County Food Bank at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 18 — the 28th day of the federal government shutdown.

There were already about 50 people lined up in front of her, and nearly 200 more would follow as the pantry distribution opened at 12:30 p.m.

Bond had only attended one other distribution day in the past, she said. She braved the cold Friday because of the limited distribution of government-issued food benefits, she said.

“How do you feed the kids?” said Bond, who has custody of her three grandchildren, ages 5, 6 and 8. “That’s my concern. It’s the kids.”

The food bank is expecting to see a growing need in the community as the longest federal government shutdown in the nation's history continues — leaving federal workers without pay and placing food benefit recipients on a tighter budget.

Twice a week, Tuesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Fridays from 12:30 p.m. to 1:45 p.m., the food bank at 254 W. Princess St. offers free food to residents in need.

The program is open to all York County residents. Since no further qualifications are required, food bank employees said it's unclear whether federal employees were among the crowd.

Timi Bond, of Red Lion, holds her 18-month-old granddaughter Illyanna Smith while waiting in line during food distribution day at York County Food Bank in York City, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Working without pay: But as the shutdown drags into a fifth week with no clear end in sight, the food bank is going one step further by offering up its food pantry Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for federal employees.

The shutdown is due to a dispute over President Donald Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for increased fencing along the nation's border with Mexico.

Democrats newly in charge of the House refuse to approve funding for the barrier, and the Republicans in control of the Senate, which approved a bill without the wall funding in December, now won't vote on a bill that doesn't have the president's support. 

During the 28-day political impasse, a typical federal employee has missed more than $5,000 in wages, according to a New York Times analysis most recently updated on Jan.16.  

By Thursday, Jan. 17, the food bank had received calls from about 15 federal employees inquiring about services, said director of communications Michael Fox. At least two had taken up the food bank’s offer to use the food pantry as of Friday at noon, two days after the food bank announced it was available, said program director Debbie Krout.

The pantry is filled with assorted fresh produce, milk, eggs, frozen meats and shelf-stable foods. Workers can come in and will be allowed different amounts based on family size.

SNAP delays: The food bank is anticipating a greater need for food in February because of potential confusion over how Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are being distributed amid the shutdown, Fox said.

SNAP recipients have received February benefits early, causing some families to see an increase in their available spending. Some may not be aware they have to budget it over two months, he said.

Recipients won’t receive further benefits until at least March 15, Krout said.

Bond said she received a text about her food stamps for February, which she said was half of her usual amount. It’s not certain whether she will receive any benefits after February, she said.

Bond has been checking every food bank and pantry to make sure the kids are fed each week, she said.

“I don’t know what else to do,” she said.

Donna Schmitz, of Dallastown, waits in line during food distribution day at York County Food Bank in York City, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Donna Schmitz, a Dallastown resident, said she’s been regularly attending the distributions since her husband died in June. Although the crowds have been roughly the same size, she has noticed more Coast Guard and other military personnel in the line, she said.

“You see a lot more people like that, service people in line waiting, which you didn't have before,” she said. 

The York County Food Bank's food pantry is shown  in York City, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. Federal employees have been invited to take advantage of their services during shutdown. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Empty shelves: The growing need could put the food bank at risk of empty shelves.

The food bank currently has enough stock, but donations tend to die down this time of year after the holiday rush, Fox said.

"It's another way food is coming out quicker, and unfortunately with not as many food drives right now it is more a struggle to keep the shelves stocked," he said.

The pantry, which the food bank is opening up to federal employees, also supplies food to many of the surrounding food pantries and soup kitchens across the county. The food bank distributes to 115 partner organizations, including pantries in churches, schools, community centers and senior centers across York.

"York County is pretty big and we're located just in the city, so it's hard to hit all the corners of the county," Fox said. "This is what these partner agencies do."

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While all donations are welcome, monetary donations are especially helpful, Fox said. Donated funds allow the food bank to purchase what it needs and get bulk value deals.

The food bank already serves 300 people a week with at the bi-weekly distribution days. If that number continues, the food bank will be reliant on an increase in donations, Krout said.

“The generosity of the community is always tremendous, especially in times like this,” she said. “So we’re really hoping that continues so we can feed everyone in need. Our ultimate goal is that no one goes to bed hungry, and we need the help of the public to make sure that happens.”