High Demand Forces Food Pantry To Shut Its Doors

ACTS food pantry in Virginia had to temporarily close and stop giving out food to families in need because of an increase in demand for food. Melissa Block speaks with Rebecca McGee, ACTS Food Pantry director, about what ACTS is doing to still help families — and to get its shelves stocked to handle increased demand so that it can reopen.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: This week, a food pantry in Virginia announced it has to shut down temporarily because demand is so high, it's run out of food. The pantry is run by a group called Action in Community Through Service in Dumfries, Virginia. The food pantry director, Rebecca McGee, says in the last six months, they've seen a dramatic 40 percent increase in need. Lately, they've been serving 4,000 people a month.

REBECCA MCGEE: On top of that, we are now serving the families that are part of the disaster from Tropical Storm Lee, but we were having the increase prior to even assisting those families.

BLOCK: And what's leading to that, do you think? I mean, the recession has been going on for so long now, what's changed?

MCGEE: I think that - in our office, we also offer financial assistance with bills. And a lot of families will come in to request assistance from bills, but they're not necessarily willing to receive food assistance or feel that they're not at a point where they need to do that.

And, unfortunately right now, we have so many families coming in for financial assistance because of their economic state, whether it's that they lost their job or they don't make a living wage, they don't have affordable housing, that they're finding that their need is greater than just financial assistance with a bill. They're now in need of food on their tables, as well.

BLOCK: Which they hadn't been before?

MCGEE: They hadn't been before. A lot of families that are coming in receive help from other family members or friends in the community and they've told us that they've tapped out those resources. They're no longer available because the people they were getting help from are now in need of help, as well.

BLOCK: What have you been hearing from people, Rebecca, as they realize that the food they might have been counting on for the rest of the month - they're not going to get it from you?

MCGEE: That's one of the most difficult parts of this, watching individuals leave in tears because they rely on us to feed their families. You know, we've been able to try to refer them to other food pantries in the area knowing that they're, too, having a difficult time and that they'll see an influx of families needing assistance while our doors are closed.

BLOCK: So, there are other places they can go, but now you're worried that they'll be facing similar situations to yours?

MCGEE: Yeah. It's one of the things that we did with contact those organizations and let them know that we were going to need to close our doors so that we could build up our supply so that we could reopen to serve families. And during that time, we had a discussion with them where they let us know that they, too, were having a very difficult time serving the families coming in. Part of that is hard for us knowing that we live in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation.

BLOCK: You're in Prince William County, which is right outside Washington, D.C. here.

MCGEE: Yes, ma'am.

BLOCK: Where does your food come from?

MCGEE: Our food comes from a variety of donors, whether it's the faith community, individual civic groups, grocery stores. We partner with the local farmers' market to receive produce from them. We have a wonderful collaboration of donors.

BLOCK: So you're shutting down through the end of the month. The idea is you'll start up again, I gather, on November 1st. What do you think it looks like going forward?

MCGEE: We are hopeful that with the donations that are coming in and the wonderful rally that we've had from the community that we would be able to open before November 1st.

BLOCK: Rebecca McGee is the program director for Action in Community Through Service, or ACTS. It's a food pantry in Dumfries, Virginia that's had to temporarily shut down because it has run out of food. Rebecca, thanks very much.

MCGEE: Thank you.

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