Recession prompting increase in demand; Garrison says service not in crisis mode, but situation is challenging for AIDS pantry
Resource Center Dallas’ food pantry for people with HIV/AIDS ran out of frozen meat this week as the facility continues to adjust to changes brought on by the economic recession.
Micki Garrison, supervisor of the food pantry, said the problem was largely due to a decrease in the number of items available from the North Texas Food Bank, which supplies most of the pantry’s food.
The North Texas Food Bank, which supplies a total of about 1,200 distribution points in 13 counties, has seen an increase in demand of almost 50 percent over last year, according to president and CEO Jan Pruitt.
Garrison said the number of different items available for her to order from the Food Bank each week has decreased by about 75 percent.
"It has changed what we have available to the clients," Garrison said, adding that all clients are still receiving their full allocation of food.
"I certainly don’t see us in a crisis mode, but it is a challenge," she said. "You just have to be really smart and watch every penny in all directions."
On Thursday, Nov. 12, only a few items could be found on the shelves of a freezer that’s normally stuffed with frozen meat. But Garrison said she’s hoping to have the freezer fully stocked again by next week.
She said the food pantry is purchasing more food from commercial vendors to make up for the decrease in the number of items available from the North Texas Food Bank. The food pantry is also substituting things like canned meat and beans for frozen meat, because protein is critical to people who are fighting the muscle-tissue wasting that’s associated with HIV/AIDS.
"For us, it has been a little bit of a shift to keep the protein high," Garrison said.
She added that demand typically increases during the holidays, and she urged the community to help out by contributing food, money and volunteer hours.
Although the pantry ran out of frozen meat at one point, the facility is actually in better shape than most local food pantries. That’s because the Resource Center serves only those with HIV/AIDS — meaning it hasn’t seen as big of a jump in clients as other facilities.
Pruitt said facilities supplied by the North Texas Food Bank are reporting a 36 percent overall increase in the number of new clients over last year.
"The pantries are having to give each family less food," Pruitt said.
She added that the Food Bank is currently sending out about 1 million pounds of food each week, which represents an increase of 46-47 percent.
"We keep saying this won’t hold, this won’t hold up, but it continues to hold at about a million pounds per week," Pruitt said. "The big question I have is, can our donations stay at this pace?"
Pruitt said the Food Bank has gotten some help from the federal stimulus package, as well as from national donors. But she said local donations, including canned food drives, have remained steady or dropped off slightly from last year.
"We know that people are hurting," Pruitt said. "A lot of people who gave last year are unemployed this year. We realize that, but Texas leads the nation in the number of hungry kids, so for as much as we are grateful for what the federal government is doing, Dallas has got to step up, too. We’ve got to help our own.
We’ve got to get a little bit more out of our community."
The North Texas Food Bank, which this week launched its online Holiday Awareness and Fundraising Campaign, is aiming to raise $5 million to distribute 20 million meals by the end of the year. To contribute, go to www.ntfb.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 13, 2009.