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'Twas the season to be needy

For 17 years, Thelma War dell’s church has provided holiday baskets for those in need. But this year Trinity Food Pantry ran out of the main course.

"We did not even have enough turkeys this year," says Wardell, who oversees the pantry.

The reason, she says, is that the number of people served this holiday season was dramatically higher than in previous years. On both Thanksgiving and Christmas, more than 200 people were served, compared to about 140 last year, says Wardell. Families that did not receive a turkey were given a 40-to-45-pound box of food.

This is not the first time that Trinity Presbyterian Church, on Detroit’s northwest side, has had a hard time meeting the needs of those too poor to buy food. Wardell says that the pantry, which had been serving the community twice a month since 1981, cut back to once a month last June. "Our population started growing and it got too expensive," she says.

Wardell’s church is not the only charity group that struggled this holiday season. Suzanne Chandler, development director of the Baldwin Soup Kitchen in Pontiac, also had a difficult time meeting clients’ needs. This year, Chandler says, people were requesting holiday baskets through Christmas Eve and many had to be turned away. "If we had more money, we could have fed more, but our resources are limited," she says.

Joe Hines, who oversees the Salvation Army soup kitchen on Bagley in Detroit, also says the number of people served this holiday season increased. He says that about 175 people were served every day last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year that number went up to about 240 people a day, says Hines. The agency also delivered about 800 holiday baskets to those in need last year and about 1,200 baskets this year. He attributes the increase to welfare reform.

"I think it has a lot to do with … people being cut off of food stamps and having to resort to agencies like this," he says.

Oakland County Food Bank executive director Helen Kozlowski says the need for food donations has increased dramatically since welfare reform went into effect. "Every month across the board has been up," she says. In 1997 the organization served 2.7 million pounds of food to those in need and served about 3.8 million pounds in 1998.

According to the State of Michigan, 227,697 social assistance cases have closed since October 1996, when welfare reform went into effect.

"That’s why the numbers of those in need are going up every month," says Kozlowski. Of the 70,000 people receiving food donations in Oakland County, she says 74 percent are either working, 18 years old and younger, or over 65.

"We support welfare reform," says Kozlowski, "but we don’t want people holding their heads up because they are working and at the same time saying, ‘I’m starving.’"

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