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Not only (are) summers tougher, but we're seeing just throughout the traditional year more need now than ever.

Food pantries gear up for a tough summer

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The city of Watertown this week granted two food pantries' requests for special funding to buy more emergency food aid.

The pantries say they always see more need in summer, when children on free or reduced-price school breakfasts and lunches aren't getting those meals. As this summer approaches, the slow economy and rising costs means these nonprofit groups are struggling to keep up with increased demand. Joanna Richards has the story.

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Joanna Richards
Watertown Correspondent

The Community Action Planning Council and the Watertown Urban Mission each asked the city for $10,000 in extra funding this week to help keep their food pantries stocked for the busy summer months.

Erica Flint, executive director of the Urban Mission, said, "Some summers in the past we've had to go from our traditional five-day supply down to a three-day supply, and this funding has enabled us to ensure we can do that five-day supply that is just so critical at a time like this." Urban Mission lets families use its pantry once each month.

Incomes are just not keeping up with costs in this economy, Flint said, and that means people are having to make tough choices. As one example, a woman needed to fix her car to keep her job but that brought her into the food pantry to feed herself.

Flint said regular lulls in the need for pantries have evaporated: "The thing that we're seeing is not only that summer's tougher but we're seeing just throughout the traditional year more need now than ever."

More of the underemployed or working poor are seeking aid and that means lots of people are arriving at food pantries for the first time, some embarrassed or uncomfortable, according to Tammy Kitto, who is emergency services manager for the Community Action Planning Council. "We have people break down and cry and tell us how embarassed and apologize for using the services," Kitto said. 

How are those sitations handled? "Well, we have trained staff here and very professional staff and you know we deal with the situations and explain to them that's why we're here," Kitto said. "That's why our jobs exist."

Both groups are also seeing more seniors. Flint says many military families and friends are seeking assistance when first arriving in the area, often to help a spouse with children during deployment.

Making matters worse is a delay in regular funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency this year, which is putting the squeeze on the pantries right when aid is most needed.

Both organizations said they're grateful to the city for the funding boost that will help make up for the missing funds as summer gets under way.

Kitto stresses that groups like hers are there to help – no one should be ashamed seeking assistance.

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