'Inflation is killing people:' Area food pantries see large increase in need


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

ATHENS — Higher grocery prices and ongoing inflation are sending more seniors on fixed incomes, young families and even college students to food banks and food pantries so they can find something to eat.

The Helpful Harvest Food Bank in Speedway between the Mercer County communities of Athens and Pipestem is currently renovating its storage facility, but plans call for weekly food distributions to resume May 17. Recipients who asked for help during the last distribution were given enough food to last between two to three weeks, said Director Linda Davis.

The Athens and Pipestem Volunteer Fire Departments help with traffic on Route 20 when a Helpful Harvest food distribution is underway.

"We get slammed down here," Davis said. "We try to get the fire departments from Pipestem and Athens to do traffic control. We had to get them because people were parking in the road on Route 20."

Route 20 is not the only roadway that gets congested. Brush Creek Falls Road, which leads into Speedway, can get traffic backed up half a mile or more, she added.

How many people show up for one of the food bank's distributions varies from week to week. Sometimes it's between 200 to 300 people, but one week there were around 450 people, Davis said. And they often show up early to get in line.

"We had a shipment and we had people waiting at 7:45 in the morning and we weren't giving it out until 3 (p.m.)," Davis said.

The numbers of people waiting in line for a food distribution are going up.

"It's more," Davis said. "We had 43 new family applications last week, last Friday," she said. "We've already outgrown these buildings."

Davis said the Helpful Harvest is seeing both young and old looking for groceries.

"Inflation is killing people," she said, "We have college students, we have elderly, we have grandparents raising grandkids. It's everybody."

"We go through so much food. We got in almost 40,000 pounds in the last shipment and it's gone," Davis added. "I think we gave out 440 tons of food last year."

Most of the Helpful Harvest Food Bank's supplies come from the Mountaineer Food Bank while some others are donated. The Mountaineer Food Bank also uses Helpful Harvest's facilities to do its Extra Mile Program, Davis said.

This program creates supplemental food boxes for the county's most needy children. About 250 boxes are filled and Door Dash is used to take it to the kids who need it the most, she said.

In McDowell County, the Five Loaves & Two Fishes Food Bank in Kimball is seeing more requests for assistance, too, said Director Linda McKinney.

"Since last February, our numbers of senior citizens have tripled," she said. "Basically, it's the older population. They're on fixed incomes. They're surviving, but the price of groceries is outrageous. It's terrible. We thank God we don't have to purchase food because we get our food from Operation Blessing. That's in Bristol, Va. Chesapeake, Va. is the main headquarters."

McKinney said the food bank's largest distribution took place last February when 1,094 people were aided. Numbers of people lined up for assistance gradually reduced, but they remain high. McKinney is expecting a surge of requests this summer.

"It kind of leveled off. We're at 600 for April and we haven't had a distribution in May. Our numbers are going to be sky high because summer is coming and the children are going to be at home," she said.

Food is distributed once a month and the food bank sometimes opens for emergencies. Senior citizens often do not have transportation or government benefits that help them meet their needs.

"We just do what we can," McKinney said. "If they're hungry, we're going to try and feed them as best we can."

Back in Mercer County, a long line of people forms most Monday mornings in front of the Bluefield Union Mission. Executive Director Craig Hammond said while some come for food assistance, many are seeking clothes, appliances and furniture because they lost their homes to fire or were evicted and have to start over.

Most of the people in line are looking for clothes.

Requests for every type of the union mission's services have been going up.

"It's been up about 8% in almost every category — food, clothing, meals — but we've seen about a 15% increase in emergency shelter. That's the biggest jump," Hammond said, adding that many of these people are drifters and others who have left their homes for various reasons.

People suffering mental illnesses make requests for shelter, too. Requests for help with paying utility bills have increased as well.

In Princeton, the Salvation Army has been receiving donations for its food pantry, but monetary donations needed for operations have dwindled to a seriously low level, Sgt. Melissa White said. The Salvation Army works to help with requests for rent and utility assistance. Donations made during the red kettle campaign the Salvation Army conducted last Christmas were down by about $25,000, White said.

Donations can be dropped off at or mailed to 300 Princeton Avenue, Princeton, WV 24740 or mailed to The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 1090, Princeton WV 24740. White said that no donation is too small or too large.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com