Over the years, Gloria J. McAdam's annual pleas for Thanksgiving turkeys were as expected as the Christmas displays that prematurely crowd out Halloween decorations in local stores.
Every year, the president and CEO of Foodshare Inc., the region's food bank, would speak eloquently about the need for birds and fixings for needy families in the area. And every year, Foodshare met and often exceeded demands.
Until, that is, this year.
If you need yet another sign of just how bad things are, for the first time ever Foodshare has had to ration its holiday turkeys. McAdam worried they would be able to fulfill only 75 percent of requests from member agencies, but then donors like Siracusa Moving and Storage kicked in enough to buy 1,000 turkeys, and Windsor Federal Savings employees skipped their holiday party and donated $3,000.
Even in a time when more people need and fewer people can give, donors have a way of digging deep. But it seems impossible to make the goal of 16,000 turkeys right now.
"It's very frustrating for me," said McAdam, the Bloomfield agency's longtime director. "Even if we're able to give agencies 90 percent, they're still not getting everything they asked for."
Hunger is a year-round event. Emergency food organizations see most demand in the summer months, but donors tend to pay more attention during the holidays, when their own larders are bulging.
Not so this year. The U.S. Department of Labor says the cost of food at home rose 7.6 percent from last year. The price of milk has risen by 25 percent in a year, while wheat has gone up by 50 percent. In the last two years, rice has gone up 88 percent, while the price of eggs has nearly doubled, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A new report from the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization, said that 122,000 people in Connecticut struggled against hunger in 2005-2007. That's due, in part, to Connecticut residents not taking advantage of public nutrition programs such as school breakfast programs. Far too few residents sign up for food stamps, as well.
Still, in the middle of the mess, last week the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving donated $1 million to Greater Hartford nonprofits that fight hunger and homelessness — twice what the foundation granted last winter, said Linda J. Kelly, foundation president.
"The 100 percent increase is recognition of the strain being placed on these agencies as they struggle to feed and shelter those in need during this difficult economic time," Kelly said. Agencies they serve have seen a sharp increase in requests for services; the food pantry run by Manchester Area Conference of Churches had an increase of 51 percent from last year.
Kelly said that since its inception in 1925, the foundation has invested for the long-term. That means when the market was sizzling, the foundation's returns were healthy, but modest. The same holds true now, said Kelly.
"When I talk about our donors, I talk about our 'very generous donors," said Kelly. "Even in tough times, things do go down a bit, but it never stops. And that speaks so highly of the compassion of people in this community."
McAdam said Foodshare is accepting donations until noon today, when they start distributing for the holiday. You can donate online at www.foodshare.org or by phone at 860-286-9999.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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