RALEIGH — For many people, summer means fresh fruit, outdoor barbecues and trips to the beach.
But for cash-strapped parents, it means more mouths to feed; for food banks, it can mean running short on supplies.
Parents who rely on free and reduced-price school lunch programs to help keep their children fed often turn to food pantries and other sources during the summer. The pantries, in turn, can have difficulty keeping up with the demand.
“We get the bulk of our donations around the holiday time, and our food demand is higher over the summer,” said Jill Straight, outreach administrator of Dorcas Ministries, a Christian nonprofit in Cary. “Too often in the summer we struggle with meeting the food demand in the community.”
Dorcas Ministries runs a thrift shop and food pantry, and while its goal is to get needy people back on their feet, the organization provides emergency services, such as food. Eligible clients can come every few months and stock up on about two weeks’ worth of food, averaging about $250 to $300 a load.
Those two weeks of food can mean everything for parents like Marie Goodman of Cary, who counted on school programs to provide breakfast and lunch for her children, ages 13, 11 and 5. Goodman is about to graduate from ITT Technical Institute with a degree in science and criminology and hopes to land a job as a probation officer. In the meantime, the family struggles; a couple weeks ago she had “absolutely nothing,” and a container of pennies came to the rescue.
“We went and cashed it in and got like $17 and got something to eat with that,” she said.
But when Goodman opened her refrigerator on a recent afternoon, she saw vegetables, fruit and some egg salad. “Most of it’s from Dorcas,” she said.
While the demand on food pantries is higher in the summer months, food drives are scarce. Straight says almost no food drives occur in August.
And already, shelves are running low.
“There’s not a lot of variety left. We’re pretty much at the end of our mixed vegetables,” she said, gesturing to rows of cans from Walmart and Food Lion. “That’s going to be gone in about a month.”
With feeding 140 families a month, two weeks’ worth of groceries at a time, even 160 boxes of Saltines crackers can disappear in a fortnight.
Jean McCullough, a member of Genesis United Methodist Church, organizes the church’s food drives, timed to help the summer food shortage. It has one coming up Saturday at the Walmart in Morrisville.
“As we start transitioning to summer, people are preoccupied with graduations,” McCullough said. “People are getting more busy. And the kids are not in school anymore, so the ones that need that meal during the day aren’t getting it.”
Their last food drive brought in 680 pounds of food and $45 in cash.