Friday, August 8, 2003

Food needs increase in summer

By Nancy Young
Enquirer contributor

WEST CHESTER TWP. - The holiday season, when many people are in a giving mood, isn't the only time families need help.

"Requests for food assistance are actually greatest during the summer months, and that coincides with the fewest amounts of donations coming in," says Joanne Gilbert, food coordinator for Reach Out Lakota, a nonprofit organization that's been helping the needy in West Chester and Liberty townships for 11 years.

Reach Out Lakota is facing near-empty food shelves this summer as families prepare for the new school year.

"We would prefer not to use our cash reserves to fill the shelves, but will do so if we have to," says Lourdes Ward, the organization's executive director. "We are already giving families less than they truly need because our supplies are so low, but we will not turn anyone away. We are currently working with approximately 150 families each month."

The demand is high and donations low during the summer for several reasons, she says.

With children off school and at home, needy families literally have more mouths to feed three meals a day, every day. The sluggish economy means fewer work opportunities. And an estimated 80 percent of Reach Out Lakota's food donations come from charity drives organized by local schools.

The dwindling days of summer also mean big back-to-school shopping bills for parents. Reach Out Lakota helps families who can't manage the expenses of long lists of school supplies and new clothes and shoes.

"Last year we helped 225 kids. As of August first, we already have 272 children asking for assistance," Ward says. "We are currently taking stock of our inventory based on local school supply lists. We are asking for cash donations to enable us to shop and fill in the gaps."

Although the Lakota area is known for its highly rated schools and pricey neighborhoods, there are still a growing number of families who struggle, including "newcomers to the area and people who simply can't rise out of the poverty level. We also lend a hand to community members who have fallen on hard times. A layoff, a fire, a flood, a divorce or a health crisis can happen to anyone," Ward says.

To donate nonperishable food, drop items off at the West Chester Police Department at 9113 Cincinnati-Dayton Road any time, or Reach Out Lakota at 6561 Cincinnati-Dayton Road on Mondays from 4 to 8 p.m. and Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cash donations are requested for the purchase of school supplies and can also be designated for buying food items. Information: 779-7515 or Web site.

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