Donations to food bank flat as needs climb

IFCS is scaling back offerings in face of influx of hungry people

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The shelves are starting to look a little thin at one of the south metro area's biggest food banks.

Donations are flat at Integrated Family Community Services — formerly called Interfaith — while the numbers of people who need help just keep climbing, said outreach director Todd McPherson.

“We're in real financial turmoil,” McPherson said. “We're getting too poor to serve the poor.”

The agency has traditionally offered a wide range of services to low-income locals, including bus passes, gasoline vouchers, help paying for medications and hearing aids, and utility bill assistance, but McPherson said the agency is scaling back or eliminating many of those programs to focus on core functions like making sure people stay fed.

While the agency's budget has stayed flat at about $700,000 a year over the last decade, the number of people coming in for help has been steadily increasing by 2,000 to 5,000 a year, said program director Allison Taggart. The agency expects to help 20,000 people this year, she said.

“The need in the suburbs is very real,” Taggart said. “Just because someone's housed and owns a car doesn't mean they're not struggling to stay fed.”

Despite the area's boom economy, Taggart said, wages have remained relatively flat in the face of skyrocketing housing costs, pushing single parents, veterans, the elderly and people with disabilities to the margins.

The influx got worse this year when both HOPE and Cornerstone food banks in Englewood closed their doors, with many of their clients ending up at IFCS, McPherson said. About 40% of the clients being helped by IFCS are from Englewood, he said.

Climbing client loads mean the agency can't get as closely involved in people's lives as in the past, Taggart said.

“Our goal has always been to provide a hand up, not a handout,” Taggart said. “In the past that's meant helping people pay rent or bills in times of dire need.”

But with those funds dwindling, Taggart said the agency is focusing on services like filling backpacks with school supplies for low-income kids.

“The idea is that if we can cover the cost of school supplies, you can put that money toward your car repairs, or toward getting those bills paid,” Taggart said.

The agency's school supply assistance is a godsend to Mark Pacheco, an IFCS client and father of four growing kids.

“They need shoes all the time,” Pacheco said. “Bills start adding up. If it weren't for the backpacks we get here, worst-case scenario, the kids would just be going to school without supplies. When you can't provide that stuff, as a parent, it makes you feel like a failure. It means so much to us.”

IFCS was hoping to jump-start its fundraising this summer with a new outreach campaign called One Can Feed, that included an advertising blitz with newspaper fliers, email blasts, radio ads and mailers.

The goal was to raise $30,000 in July and August, McPherson said, but halfway through August the campaign had netted just $11,000.

“If everyone who saw or heard it gave a dollar, that would equal about $130,000,” McPherson said.

Meanwhile, Taggart said, assistance from local, state and federal governments is spotty and dwindling.

Downstairs in the agency's food bank, shelves of some staples like chicken noodle soup and canned corn are full, but McPherson said those don't come close to providing real nutrition to people in need.

“It's a lot of starch and salt,” McPherson said. “Nutrition is important. It's closely tied to not just physical health, but mental health.”

Some items, like fresh produce, dairy, eggs and meat fly out the door as soon as they come in, Taggart said. Keeping toiletries like shampoo and toilet paper on the shelves is hard too. Many shelves are starting to go bare.

IFCS is always grateful for donations of food, Taggart said, though she said the agency can make better use of cash.

“There's only so many cans of pumpkin we need,” Taggart said.

“We're doing everything we can to address the need in our community. We hope the community thinks what we're doing is important and wants to help us do this work.”

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