Friday, March 20, 2009

Food giveaway has to turn people away

A food giveaway in Georgia saw such a huge demand that people had to be turned away.

The giveaway is part of an USDA Emergency Food Assistance Program. The program distributes food through community action agencies and food banks. The recent food bill and economic stimulus packages increased the number of giveaways the USDA conducts.

From the Athens Banner Hearld, writer Merritt Melanco shows us how great the need is.

More than 200 people gathered at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2872 at dawn Thursday to pick up bags to free groceries from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and several dozen were turned away after food ran out.

"The last couple of these, we had to go out to the corner and hold up signs, flag people down just to get them in here to get the groceries," said Gwen Maxey, community services coordinator for ACTION Inc., the agency that handles the USDA's local commodities distribution. "So this, to me, is just a sign of the times."

As the line snaked around the VFW parking lot, volunteers handed out numbered tickets representing one household's allotment of groceries. It was clear by 8:15 a.m. that there weren't enough tickets to go around. The scene was similar at a Oconee County grocery pick-up location, where volunteers ran out of groceries by 10 a.m. - a first in Oconee County, said Elaine Whitmire, ACTION Inc.'s community services coordinator for the county.

With more and more companies laying off employees and the state reaching an all-time high of 9.2 percent unemployment, Maxey isn't surprised to see new faces in the line, she said.

They are all sorts of people: Construction workers who haven't found a job in months; people who were laid off and are trying to make their savings last as long as they can; grandparents who need the extra food because their children and grandchildren have moved back home.

"It's just really bad out there right now," said Billie Riley, who retired after 22 years working at a local hospital. "My daughter lost her job, so she had to move in with me. We're all in the same house now, which is fine. But I've only got Social Security coming in."

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