Delaware Does More – a collaborative effort among local non-profits, businesses, schools, faith-based organizations and others – kicked off Thursday, Nov. 13, at the Food Bank of Delaware’s Milford storage facility. Proposed by the food bank and United Way of Delaware, the statewide initiative has ambitious goals of raising 300,000 pounds of food and $250,000 this winter to help its neediest citizens by supplementing food supplies and offering utility assistance and emergency shelter for those less fortunate. Many of those people – because of things like layoffs and uncertainty in the housing market – put a new face on hunger.
According to the United Way, the surge in need for basic assistance in the form of food and a warm place to stay comes from increasing local layoffs, as well as the nationwide housing and financial crises. They say that thousands of formerly middle-class Delawareans are joining the ranks of the chronically unemployed or the working poor.
Organizations are reporting that food, shelter and heating assistant demands are on the rise, increasing 25 to 50 percent since last year across the state, and in some regions, have more than tripled. Health and human service agencies are unable to meet the increased level of need and are being forced to turn people away in record numbers.
Delaware Does More aims to find a solution to the epidemic. The project, which started in early November, will run through Feb. 28, 2009, in effort to aid families and individuals during the harsh winter months.
Representatives from Catholic Charities, Christian Storehouse in Millsboro, the interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and other area churches spoke of the increase of assistance needed from last year and the new faces.
Steven Smith of the Christian Store House in Millsboro, which has had an emergency food pantry for 17 years, said the increase from last year to this year was staggering. In every month since June they have had overwhelming increases from 2007. October saw their smallest gain, but only because of financial restrictions. The Christian Store House was forced to limit their help to only those living within the 19966 ZIP code – the largest one in Sussex County.
“We didn’t want to do it, but we had to,” he said. “For the four-hour days that we are open, three days a week, we had people coming in every five minutes for food.”
Due to an overwhelming turnout, families were referred back to other food banks in effort to fulfill their needs.
Smith emphasized the recurring theme of the day – that of those making up the increase, many were people who had never needed these types of services before, but that because of lost jobs or wages and the stagnant building and housing industry, more upper-income people need the help.
“In Delaware,” he noted, “especially in southern Delaware, we have an economy based on the seasons. As we’re going into the fall and winter, a lot of people are out of work. Another thing going on is we have hit a stagnant economy in the building industry – over 2,000 units unsold in Sussex County and it’s getting worse.
“We are here to minister to the need,” he emphasized. “We are not in a position to say you need to save more money or get out of debt.”
Katrina Eischler of Catholic Charities Inc. said that their low-income energy assistance program last year helped 14,500 people in Delaware pay heating bills from October to March. To date this year, they have had 8,400 applicants already and expect 5,000 more heading into December.
“You can see that we will remarkably exceed the number of families from last year, and these are new faces, and people with higher incomes,” she said.
Eischler also mentioned that Catholic Charities’ Crises Alleviation program, designed to prevent homelessness, has had to turn away 1,500 people – as many as they helped last year.
Carol Hoffecker of the Dover Seventh Day Adventist Church said they have had a 36 percent increase since 2007 in their food bank and again reiterated the fact that many of those turning to the group for help had never needed help before.
”There are many new faces,” she said. “Many who thought they’d never have to resort to it. They just feel like they are swimming against the current, and our prayer is that we don’t drown.”
“This is not about next spring or summer, this is about now,” said Michelle Taylor, CEO and president of the United Way. “It’s about November, December, January and February. A lot of people are struggling right now, but some are struggling more than others. We urge you to get that extra box of pasta or cereal or canned good at the supermarket.”
Representatives from pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which has its U.S. headquarters in Wilmington, presented a check to the effort for $15,000, and representatives from Delmarva Power gave another $10,000. These are just two of the many businesses and organizations that have signed on to help.
“We’re not looking for any fame or glory,” said AstraZeneca representative Tyrone Jones. “As a member of the community, we all need to look at what we can do to stop and help. Even as individuals, there is so much you can do. Stop, take a look in your refrigerator and see what you could donate. Before you buy your coffee, what’s in your pocket that can help? What would it hurt to go down to your local food bank and help sort food? Stop, and help.”
As organizations throughout the community are making their efforts to help, the Food Bank of Delaware is also accommodating the growing number of people in need.
“Those that are familiar with the workings of a food bank know that money is always in scarce supply,” stated Patricia Beebe, president and CEO of the Food Bank of Delaware. “With everything we own, we get as much life out of it as possible; then we go even further than anyone ever believed we could.”
The Food Bank of Delaware has even purchased 100,000 pounds of food more than it typically would this time of year, just to keep up with the demand.
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) attended last week’s events and urged citizens to think of giving hope to those who need it most. ”There’s a lot of people in the ditch today,” he said, referring to the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible. “It’s our obligation to give hope to the hopeless. There are a lot of people hurting in this country right now, and we want to do what we can to help.”
Delaware Does More is jointly sponsored by The United Way of Delaware and the Food Bank of Delaware. The food bank is providing all donated food to its member agencies, without any share-maintenance fee, and the United Way is providing administrative and fiduciary management for the fund at no charge. A full 100 percent of the donated funds will be allocated to the community, with no overhead or administrative fees.
To donate funds, go to www.uwde.org, click “:donate” and select “Delaware Does More.” To donate food or run a food drive, contact Food Bank of Delaware at (302) 292-1305, ext 211.
To get started raising food, there are some simple steps to take. Form a food drive team, name a leader; make a food drive plan; contact United Way of Delaware to tell them who you are, what your plan is and how to reach you; contact the Food Bank of Delaware to make arrangements for collection barrels; execute your plan; and when done, contact the Food Bank of Delaware to arrange pick-up. The steps to raise money are the same, except after calling the United Way, they will send an envelope for recording donations. When finished, put the proceeds in the envelope and call United Way.
To become involved in the Delaware Does More campaign, contact Monique Chadband at United Way at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (302) 573-3762. Citizens who need assistance are being urged to call the Delaware Helpline at (800) 464-4357.