By Lauren Wanko
Staffers and volunteers at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen prepare tonight’s dinner. They serve two hot meals daily.
“Last year we did 230,000 meals. We’re way ahead of that this year. We’ve seen unprecedented increases. Right now we’re up 15 to 20 percent since July 1,” said Executive Director Dennis Micai.
The United States Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homelessness 25-City Survey indicates Trenton’s food pantries and emergency kitchens are also seeing a significant increase. Requests for emergency food assistance jumped 10 to 12 percent over the past year. Twenty percent of the need went unmet. The report indicates food pantries and emergency kitchens had to turn additional people away due to lack of resources. Mercer Street Friends Food Bank distributes food to about 60 partner agencies in the county.
When asked if organizations are calling and saying they need more food, the food bank’s Director Rucha Gadre said, “Yes they do call us and say, ‘We ran out of food. It’s only the first week, we have a few more weeks to go. What do we do?'”
Mercer Street Friends Food Bank turns to their pile of donations to help those pantries get through the month.
“We’re not a solution to end hunger, we’re just a band-aide,” Gadre said.
Gadre thinks demand for food continues to increase since SNAP benefits — formerly known as food stamps — were reduced, lack of jobs, low wages and steep housing costs. As for the number of homeless families in Trenton, that decreased. But the report indicates the number of homeless individuals stayed the same over last year. At the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, Micai says his team is seeing lots of new faces.
Most of the clients at the soup kitchen are not homeless. Micai says about 25 percent have jobs, some more than one. But it’s not enough to pay the bills and put food on the table.
“Housing costs are very high, food costs are very high, especially if you are a senior citizen or a disabled person,” he said.
Micai says many clients don’t live in Trenton. He thinks they come to town to access the services offered here. He insists employment opportunities will help decrease the need for hot meals. Gadre agrees and insists educating the community is just as important. Still she worries about the growing demand for food.
“If it goes up, it will be very difficult for food banks all over the state and the country to meet the gap,” she said.
As for the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, they expect to serve an additional 40,000 meals by the end of June.