Food banks brace for federal cuts

WASHINGTON – “It’s a blessing” – that’s how one Manna Food Center visitor describes the monthly allotment that helps supplement her SNAP program benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as the Food Stamp Program).

After the House of Representatives voted to cut the budget for food programs by $40 billion, those who serve the hungry are concerned that their services will see a jump in demand.

Standing in the Gaithersburg warehouse of the Manna Food Center, Nutrition Educator Jenna Umbriac listed the activities going on as staffers and volunteers buzzed around her, stocking shelves and operating forklifts to unload pallets of donated food off the trucks.

“We’re busy preparing our open boxes filled with fresh produce,” she said. “You’ve got people packing up baby food and formula for households with small children, and you’ve got another group pre-sorting food getting ready for the week ahead.”

Outside the warehouse, the line of recipients is growing. Arthur, an elderly man who uses a cane and explains he was disabled as the result of an accident, said the food from Manna is critical for him.

“My Social Security is very, very low…$400 dollars,” he said.

Each month, Arthur gets a box of food from Manna with canned goods, dry cereals, fruits and vegetables. He said if he is careful, he can make it last 10 to 15 days.

Umbriac said Manna’s mission is to supplement the federal and state-issued benefits like SNAP – and that need has grown. In fiscal 2013, Manna served 42,988 households.

“When I was hired here two years ago, you wouldn’t see a number above 200 during a non-holiday period,” Umbriac said as she points to a dry erase board inside the warehouse that shows how many people come each day. “Today we’re seeing 221, yesterday it was even higher, near 300.”

Future cuts to federally food programs could place a bigger impact on Manna, Umbriac said.

“It just increases the role that Manna and other places like it are going to have for households that are low income.”

If you’d like to donate to Manna, Umbriac has a list of nutritious and practical food on her wish list:

  • Tuna (packed in water)
  • Canned fruit (in its own juices)
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Low-salt canned vegetables
  • Low-sugar cereals

Food donations can be dropped off to the Manna Food Center at 9311 Gaither Road in Gaithersburg, Md., Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or on the second Saturday of the month between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

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