• Salvation Army and Other Food Banks Meeting Increased Need

    By Veronica Bruno

    With food insecurity affecting nearly one in three families in Rhode Island, Newport’s food pan­tries are stepping up to meet the needs of vulnerable residents.

    Newport County’s Salvation Army has brought in more vol­unteers to help feed the hungry, East Bay Community Action’s food pantry increased its hours, and the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce has embarked upon its major food drive, “Ton of Love,” for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Com­munity Center.

    According to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, which serves a statewide network of 143 member agencies, food pantry usage increased 30 percent last year, representing a nearly 50 per­cent increase from pre-pandemic levels.

    Families with annual incomes below the federal poverty level, which is $30,000 for a family of four, are grappling with crippling inflation. At the same time, Con­gress has ended the emergency SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits that provided an additional average of $155 per month. With the average two-bedroom rental in Rhode Island increasing from $1,264 to $1,716, and closer to $2,200 in the Newport area, it’s no wonder that the food pantries are seeing more people.

    “The prices of groceries keep going up . . . and families just are having a hard time affording stuff lately,” said Nicole Kintner, from Middletown, a volunteer at the Newport Salvation Army.

    Kintner has alos seen people calling the Salvation Army for help with utility bills and even rent.

    “Especially during winter time, there’s a lot of homeless people,” said Salvation Army Major Jae Eun Park, who manages the Salvation Army Southern New England Di­vision.

    To service the area, the Salvation Army hosts a Friday night dinner and Sunday lunch.

    “Also, there is not enough shelter space, especially for just ladies in the area,” she said.

    Park has stepped up efforts among the volunteer pool. When we visited their facility, the office was bustling with volunteers who were helping to do in-take of pantry visitors. Salve Regina stu­dents also help out with the com­munity service meals.

    “But the volunteers make a difference,” Park said. “So, if there is someone willing to help us, we can do more stuff here, not just with the food pantry and com­munity service. If someone has a talent, like music or anything, we can use it.”

    Although funding is always a challenge, Park is constantly looking for innovative ways to pro­vide additional assistance for the area’s most vulnerable citizens.

    “I can tell you; people need more support now. And we struggle to get resources,” she said. “Our goal is to try to help people.”

    The Salvation Army is working on several additional programs to meet the needs of the area.

    “If people show up and need help, we’re going to try to find the funds,” she said.

    All the food pantries we spoke with have increased their hours. East Bay Community Action’s pantry in downtown Newport is now open on Mondays and Thurs­days.

    “We have noticed that we have at least doubled on average,” said Angela Downing, senior director for Workforce Development and Social Services at EBCAP. “In addi­tion to [the food pantry], we have an advocate on site that will offer screenings or a deeper assess­ment to link them to internal or external resources. We know that if someone is food insecure, they’re also going to have other needs.”

    Advocates are trained to do SNAP and LIHEAP applications. They also have access to fund­raising dollars to help meet basic needs and can screen for rental as­sistance and other financial hard­ships that clients are experiencing.

    EBCAP has also redesigned the food pantry space to meet in­creased demand. “We just redid all the shelving, and we put in bigger freezers,” Downing said. “We’re just trying to maximize our space to the best of our ability for storage, and increase the fre­quency of deliveries by identifying more vendors that can work with farmers and other entities to bring in food.”

    EBCAP provides other essential items, including baby necessities and toilet paper.

    The Salvation Army is looking for detergent and personal hy­giene items, Park said.

    Personal care items are also among the donations requested by the chamber’s fundraising ef­fort, in addition to non-perishable food donations.

    “It’s called ‘Ton of Love’ because that is the goal, to collect an actual ton of food and personal items for the food pantry, and almost every year we’ve reached that goal,” said Kate Grotteberg, the cham­ber’s director of communications, marketing and events. “We have a great group of volunteers that take this on each year, ranging from young professionals to business owners, and they really just do a fantastic job.”

    Distribution bins can be found in several locations throughout New­port, Portsmouth and Tiverton. Signs around the bins describe the types of items needed. Locations include several BankNewport and People’s Credit Union branches, the Boys and Girls Clubs of New­port County, Charter Books, KLR, Innovate Newport, RaNEW Salon & Spa, Salve Regina University and Casey’s Oil.

    For additional information, visit the chamber’s website. To donate or volunteer for the Newport County Salvation Army, call 401- 846-3234.

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