Local food pantries still in need following holidays

OSCEOLA COUNTY — December brings large amounts of food and monetary donations to local food pantries, filling their shelves. Unfortunately, these donations will be exhausted by the end of January.

Project Starburst has seen an increase in the number of people it serves, providing food to more than 1,000 people in Mecosta and Osceola counties in November. Even with increased donations in December, the expense of providing food to so many people in need is great.

“Because of our numbers, we serve so many families – between 300 and 320 a month now – with those kinds of numbers it takes quite a bit to keep the shelves stocked,” said Diane Long, executive director at Project Starburst. “I try to spend money as wisely as I can and part of that is Feeding America, but recently even they have had problems getting items at a low cost.

“We had to cut back on our personals that we give out to people. On our surveys, that’s what they are asking to come back. We used to provide laundry soap, shampoo and conditioner. Now we only provide toilet paper because of the budget.”

Manna Pantry also received much during the holidays.

“We had a lot of very nice food donations in December, but we always get a lot in December,” said Isabel Kempton, coordinator of Manna Pantry. “It just seems to be the time people donate. I think people get in the holiday spirit and they want to give.”

While more people gave to food pantries during the holiday season, the amount of people seeking food assistance also rose.

“We have had a steady increase all autumn and I think that’s going to continue to go up because there is still uncertainty about food stamps and what’s going to happen to them as far as funding,” Kempton said, adding the end of long-term unemployment benefits also will cause an increase in the number of people served by food pantries.

About 1.3 million Americans without work lost their unemployment benefits on Saturday when Congress did not renew a federally-funded emergency aid program for unemployed individuals.

Currently, both Manna Pantry and Project Starburst are still in need of some essential items.

“We didn’t get many donations of canned fruit,” Kempton said. “Most of the staples we did very well. I was surprised at the quality of the food donations this year.”

Project Starburst is in great need of peanut butter.

“We had ordered 25 cases of peanut butter from Feeding America and they were out, so we did not get them,” Long said. “That’s how much I order each month, typically. It’s a biggie for us because it can go a long way and it’s so versatile. It’s a good source of protein. We also are always in need of soup, especially this time of year.”

To donate to Project Starburst, located at 120 S. State St. in Big Rapids, in the lower level of the United Church, stop by from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday or call (231) 796-5342. To donate to Manna Pantry, located at 323 S. State St. in Big Rapids, stop by from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday or call (231) 796-5473.