Columbia Daily Tribune, July 15, 2008: Situational۪ poverty on the increase

Posted on

By JANESE HEAVIN of the Tribune۪s staff

Published Tuesday, July 15, 2008

High gas and food costs have forced a record-breaking number of people to turn to the local food pantry and other agencies for help, but donations and contributions are keeping up with the demand.

“We۪re distributing more food at this point than ever in history,” said Jessica Spanglehour, development director for the Central Missouri Food Bank. “But donations are steady. We۪re ahead of where we were in fundraising last year.”

The food bank partners with pantries in 32 counties. The Boone County pantry last month served about 700 more people than in June 2007. Over the past three years, the local pantry has seen a 74 percent increase in the month of June.

“Historically, it۪s lower in the summer months because people are able to make do,” said Peggy Kirkpatrick, executive director of the food bank. “People are able to raise their own produce and don۪t have to spend as much on utilities … we۪re seeing more situational poverty.”

Unlike generational poverty, which is caused by lack of education and life skills, situational poverty is typically temporary and created when circumstances change. “These people have the life skills to be productive, active citizens, but for some reason, something happened that caused them to be in need – high fuel costs, high food costs, illness, divorce,” Kirkpatrick said. “And the incredibly wet spring and summer has caused the construction industry to not be working. When these people don۪t work, they don۪t eat. It۪s a challenging time.”

The Voluntary Action Center is also seeing an increase in residents who need help paying for necessities such as transportation. Executive Director Cindy Mustard said she expects to see between 600 and 700 individuals come through the door this month, up from an average of about 400 to 500 a month.

“We۪re seeing a lot of new people, mostly people needing help with medications,” she said. “And we do provide gas. We۪ve seen that go up.”

The center gives gas vouchers to people who need to drive to work, to a job interview or a medical appointment. In the past, the center has capped the amount of gas per trip to about $10, but that limit has doubled to keep up with rising gas prices. “It۪s not meant to fill up a tank, just to get across town and back home,” Mustard said.

The VAC also distributes bus passes and last month gave about 250 more than normal.

The weak economy and high prices haven۪t taken their toll on donations, though. Both agencies say the community continues to help meet the increased needs.

The VAC tonight is holding its annual Christmas in July picnic for low-income families to raise awareness of year-round needs. So far, the fundraiser has brought in $14,000, about $500 shy of the goal. The money will go toward the VAC۪s $276,700 operating budget, which is separate from the $190,000 given annually by churches, civic groups and corporations to provide services.

The Central Missouri Food Bank is weathering the economic storm with the help of private donations, food drives and partners such as local freight companies that help pick up and deliver food. More than half of the Central Missouri Food Bank۪s $2.5 million budget comes from fundraising and donations.

“The Central Missouri Food Bank is just incredibly blessed,” Kirkpatrick said. “It۪s not hard for people to understand the issue of hunger. People know they can give food or money or time, and somebody۪s life has been changed, even just for a moment.”

Reach Janese Heavin at (573) 815-1705 or

« Back to News