By Joel Hall
Samaritans Together, the food pantry of the Clayton County Community Services Authority and a key resource for the Southern Crescent's poor, is in desperate need of donations, according to staffers, and just days away from running out of food.
"In a 90-day period, we have spent about $11,000 trying to stock that pantry," said Jamminese Miller, community support coordinator for the authority. "I anticipate by the end of the month that this food will be gone," she said.
"It started back in the fall, when people started getting laid off," said Ruth Jones, vice president of hunger for Samaritans Together. "We used to have people that came in regularly, but now we are seeing people that we have never seen before. We've been serving about 20 clients on Mondays, and about 20 clients on Wednesdays."
Miller said the agency has applied for several grants to help out, but increasing demand, and dwindling donations, have depleted its resources. She said those in need of food, help weather-proofing their homes and other services, are often referred to the authority by local churches and government agencies. The Community Services Authority serves Clayton, Henry, and Fayette counties.
Miller said that in the last year, donations to its Samaritans Together pantry have "dropped off 35 or 40 percent."
Miller said the pantry normally receives $10,000 to $20,000 a year in grant funding through the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, but those grant were in limbo late last year when the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts temporarily suspended the county's ability to receive state grant funding for failing to properly submit the county's fiscal year 2007 audit report. Miller says the county has "been responsive" to the pantry's request for assistance and expects some funds to be available later this year.
"What we are experiencing now is a huge influx of families who are needing food. I can't even say [the number of families has] tripled. The numbers are astronomical," Miller said. In the last few months, "we saw that people weren't donating as frequently," she said. "The food drives from the post office and school system weren't filling the pantry. We very rarely have businesses or individual families that donate. Most people don't have the extra food to spare anymore."
Jones, who is in charge of buying food for the Samaritans Together pantry, said the average food distribution to a needy family is about 20 pounds. It includes staples such as rice, beans, grits, spaghetti, canned vegetables, mashed potato mix, peanut butter, jelly, and crackers. When available, the pantry also provides toilet paper, diapers, and other toiletries.
She said the shortage is forcing the pantry to service clients every other month instead of monthly.
"We used to have a storage area where we could get supplies, but now everything we have is on the main shelves," Jones said. "We can have food on the shelf on Monday and it looks good, and by next Monday, it is almost a skeleton kitchen again. You walk in there and it looks like we have been robbed."
Jones said churches, which provide the lion's share of their food donations, have been scaling back, and that the pantry is reaching out to the community for support.
"We're all in this together," Miller said. "While in your household, you may not be suffering, there may be people who don't have anything to eat. There are still the poor among us and we still need to keep feeding them."
Samaritans Together pantry is located inside the Clayton County Community Services Authority, at 1000 Main St., in Forest Park.
For more information or to make donations, call (770) 961-7252 or (770) 961-1486.