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December 10, 2016
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Cutting the safety net; Who will help in hard times?

“The need is greater than we’ve ever seen before,” reported Herb Bauernfeind, vice president of IOU, the Interfaith Outreach Center in Callicoon. “We do the best we can, but there are more requests than we have funds, and even though we have more funds this year than ever before, still the requests are so much higher… We have to turn people down frequently,” he added.

Karen Warren at Sullivan County United Way (SCUW), which helps the poor with food and shelter, echoed the same concerns. “We are having a hard time,” she said. Unlike some charitable organizations that receive government support or grants from foundations, United Way exists solely on the funds it can raise.

In Monticello, where SCUW has its offices, Warren pointed out, “Just look around at how many places are out of business, and the ones that are left are struggling themselves,” making it difficult to raise funds at the levels needed. “At the end of the year, our emergency food pantry was full [after Christmastime donations], but now it’s nearly empty,” she said.

“Every day is an emergency for these people,” she continued. “Life has become an emergency for Sullivan County’s poor.” She closed the conversation by pointing out that 27% of Sullivan County’s children are living in poverty.

A hundred miles away, at Food Bank for New York City, president and chief executive Margarette Purvis said last week, “We’re already telling our partners—soup kitchens, churches and food pantries—that they need to step to their efforts to raise money and secure more food.”

Stepping up our efforts locally seems to be an increasingly inevitable necessity, unless we want to live knowing we have hungry and food-insecure neighbors. If donations are down, we must ask ourselves, what can we do both as individuals and as communities? Beliefs about what the government’s role should or should not be matter little in light of the congressional decision to cut food stamp funds for the next five years. The reality of this will filter down into our communities, and who will pick up the slack if we do not?

Building stronger, more resilient communities for a more secure and more sustainable future is essential. We at The River Reporter believe addressing hunger in our communities is a good place to start.