TRAVERSE CITY — Area food pantries report a generous helping of support through the Christmas holiday, but the coordinator of the Northwest Food Coalition is concerned about a 50 percent-plus increase in the number of people served across the region in 2013.
In 2012, area pantries, meal programs and baby pantries fed 281,000 people, said Val Stone, who keeps coalition statistics. By November 2013, the count stood at 429,000, a 52 percent increase.
She estimated last week that December's count will bring the total to 467,000.
Some people are counted more than once because area pantries distribute food in several different ways, she said. For instance, one pantry may give out three days' worth of food in one family visit and two days' food in another visit, while a community meal program feeds one meal per person.
The one thing they have in common is people.
The numbers still provide a picture of a food-needy population because area pantries have used the same counting method for almost two decades.
The statistics indicate several things to Stone, a long-time area human services worker who also works part time as Salvation Army case worker.
“The numbers show that people aren’t getting enough work hours to supply all the needs they have," she said. "Prices have grown more than wages and fixed incomes. Seniors are getting a 1.5 percent increase in Social Security, but that doesn’t take into consideration the extra cost of gas, heating fuel and all the essentials.
"The reality is that the majority of jobs in our area are low-pay service jobs and people often need to often work two jobs."
But she also sees good news. More churches and people in the community are making sure food is given to the pantries, she said. New pantries also have taken root because of the need.