By Kathleen McKevitt – Special to the Pahrump Valley Times
During the Reagan years, there were over 400,000 food banks in the United States; today, there are 40,000.
It’s been over a decade since New Hope Fellowship, Oasis Outreach, Salvation Army, and many other organizations began providing both meals and boxes of perishable and non-perishable foods to people in need. In that time, the need has more than quadrupled.
According to Jackie Wondra, coordinator at Oasis Outreach, “The need is keenest in people over 60 years old and under 18.” Salvation Army, the Methodist, Lutheran, Community and Baptist churches, all represented at the most recent Community Outreach meeting, tell the same story of increase in people who come to meals they serve weekly to the homeless, the starving and the homebound.
While politics labels the poor and hungry “takers,” the reality is two-thirds of the people who struggle to put food on the table and feed their children are actually members of the workforce — sometimes with more than one job. They are not using their income for anything frivolous. They simply can’t earn enough to pay the rising prices of food, especially good food.
In Pahrump, civic organizations reach out to people daily and weekly to provide a warm meal, food baskets, weekly boxes of non-perishables and help people find jobs.
Since the economic downturn, the decrease in jobs and an increase in the cost of education, life has changed dramatically for the unemployed and low-wage employed.
There are presently eight available food banks in Pahrump — very unusual for a town this size. Volunteers from towns in Idaho and Montana think it’s rare to see even one in this size community. Still, Wondra said, “All our recipient numbers are growing every month and more has to be done.”
Every Wednesday, without fail, food is provided for the less fortunate in Pahrump through New Hope Fellowship’s Path of Hope Food Pantry.
Once every two months, the same team also distributes United States Department of Agriculture commodities which include frozen meats, non-perishables, sometimes chicken, sausage and ham.
According to rough totals, 492 families were served at the commodities distribution. In January, the number was 538. How many individuals is that? Donna Redmayne, co-founder of Path of Hope, thinks the number is easily between 2000 and 3000 people.
Some 500 cars snaked around six blocks in Pahrump, from highway 160 back and forth to the New Hope Fellowship on West Street where commodities were handed out. A similar picture was the case on the preceding Wednesday when regular weekly disbursements take place, from the same location.
Sandy Tucker, also a founder of Path of Hope said, “We’re in our fourth year of operation and seeing startling increases in people and need just in the last couple of years.” Redmayne agrees. She said, “Our last year totals served were 20,114 families and 83,000 individuals. That, according to our early first quarter number, is already increasing this year.”
Already this year, according to Redmayne, 5,210 families, and 19,827 individuals have received food at distributions.
The Wednesday distributions include perishables like potatoes, onions, oranges, bread and various kinds of vegetables. Redmayne said, “We never know for sure what we’re going to get from the distributors but so far we have always had enough for everyone.”
Tucker and Redmayne as well as Wondra said every penny that comes in to their organizations is used for food and goes directly to buying food. “We can often buy food for nine cents a pound and, as we are a 501(c)(3), everything given to us is a tax write-off for donators,” she said.
New Hope Fellowship supplies the electricity, no one has a salary, all helpers are volunteers, and Donna Redmayne hopes people know their volunteers are those who also come for food and want to give back by helping others in any way they can.
“Speaking of volunteers,” said Redmayne, “Anyone available to volunteer on Wednesdays should just show up at the office on West Street on Wednesday, ask for Sandy or me, at 8 a.m. We will teach them the little they need to know to help out and we’re finished by noon.” Volunteers are needed and encouraged.
Nationwide, USDA is projecting a two-fold increase in food distribution needs in the next one to three years. General consensus locally project this year’s numbers doubling from last year.
Redmayne said, “We rely on God, and so far we have never run out. It is the single issue before all community support organizations as unemployment increases, federal funds are cut and jobs and education are on a decline — even for working people. It’s very tough.”
Educators are noting nationally, especially in states in the South, are struggling to feed and educate citizens.
Tucker said, “We feed families; other organizations like Food for Thought are about feeding minds, to help insure kids get enough to eat to be able to learn.”
These organizations also invite local gardeners to bring fresh produce from their garden/farms when possible.
“Everyone in the community who can do so needs to step up, bring what they can — themselves or food, or donations or support,” said Redmayne.
What would the civic organizations say to the community? Tucker and Redmayne summed it up in a few words: “Look inside yourselves and see if you have time, some food to spare, clothes, books, shelter, a job or anything constructive for people in need and call us.” The number is 751-2665.