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Local food pantries brace for SNAP cut during holiday season

Posted by  November 18, 2013 02:24 PM

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Executive director Alyse Barbash in Haven from Hunger's food pantry.

Thanksgiving is a busy time of year for food pantries, but this one will be especially so.

Due to the recent Nov. 1 nationwide cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps, food pantries like Beverly Bootstraps and Haven from Hunger in Peabody are trying to gauge how much more they’ll need once the decrease goes into effect.

“We’re beginning to track our client’s response to this cut,” said Gus McDonald, food assistance supervisor at Beverly Bootstraps. “In the month of September we already had 18 new families, and in the month of October we had 36.”

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that Congress passed in 2009, funding for the SNAP program and others was terminated, according to the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). States are unable to change the law, and 497,000 Massachusetts SNAP households will see a decrease in their food stamp benefits, says the DTA. Each reduction varies according to the number of people per household. A six-person household, for instance, will notice a cut of $53 per month, while a one person home will notice an $11 dollar decrease in their monthly benefits.

“We exist because food stamps exist,” said Alyse Barbash, executive director at Haven from Hunger. “If all of these food stamps are taken away over the next few years, then on a normal day, where I have 120 people lined up outside, I won’t be able to fill the need and my doors will close. Barbash said they need the food stamps, because her organization is just a supplement. “I can’t give enough food to a family of four or five for two weeks.”

McDonald feels these same burdens at Beverly Bootstraps. “We already have families of four and five staying on with us rather than tapering off like they usually do,” said McDonald. “They have new burdens, and we’ve become part of a family’s plan to get through the tough parts of the month.”

In September, Beverly Bootstraps served 479 households and 1,156 individuals. They distributed 1,989 bags, which equals about 79,560 pounds of food. Only a month later, those numbers rose to 512 family homes, 1,271 individuals, 736 new visitors—the highest number tracked from July to October—and 2,208 circulated bags. McDonald expects these numbers to grow in the coming months as clients adjust to the declining benefits.

“Families and individuals have not felt the whole impact of the cuts, but it is coming down the pike,” said McDonald. “We can only do what we can do and do it to the very best of our ability. We’ll strategize, forecast and evaluate our distribution model with renewed energy and effort to provide the best possible services standing in the gap of need for our clients.”

The good news is that though the number of clients increase, the number of turkeys is also rising. Beverly Bootstraps will provide 440 turkeys plus fixings for the holiday’s distribution. Haven from Hunger will serve a full holiday meal on Thanksgiving Day in addition to their regular Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday food pantry hours and hot dinners.

“At least I know people have a place to be. It’s like my other family,” said Barbash, who is expecting 50 to 80 people from Peabody, Salem, and Lynnfield on Thanksgiving Day for a holiday noontime meal. Henry’s Market in Beverly is providing the food.

Every month, 1,480 families walk through the doors of Haven from Hunger, and the majority are “working poor”—two full time parents who can’t make ends meet, Barbash said. As SNAP benefits decline and families on food stamps lose $36 a month, she believes more people will go to food pantries sooner, which means donations are needed earlier. Beverly Bootstraps and Haven from Hunger rely on donations to keep their shelves stocked, and soon there may be more needs.

While stocking bags and gathering turkeys, Barbash is also waiting to fulfill a three year goal: to purchase Haven from Hunger’s building and property, a space they have rented for 26 years. The SNAP cuts, however, may be a roadblock in this plan as client’s needs increase daily.

“The SNAP cuts have happened and they’re real,” said Heather Johnston, director of donor relations at Beverly Bootstraps. “But there is the potential for families and individuals to suffer even further if the farm bill is passed it is being proposed right now, and we won’t know this until January.”

Haven from Hunger, 71 Wallis St., Peabody
Food Pantry Program: 10:30am to 2:30pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday
Dinner Served: 5-6pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday
Thanksgiving and Christmas Day Meals: Noon on the day

Beverly Bootstraps, 371 Cabot St., BeverlyFood Pantry Program: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday from 11am to 12:30pm
Tuesday & Wednesday from 5:00pm-6:00pm
Saturday, 10:00am-11:00am
First and Third of the Month

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Gordon College News Service.

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