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BROCKTON — A married couple with two young children, unable to pay their bills and afford food, sought assistance recently at the a Catholic Charities food pantry in Brockton, so that their children would not have to go to bed hungry. They have a household income of $24,000 for four and are finding it difficult to pay for rent, utilities, heating and food.
The husband has been unable to find a job in his trade as an ironworker, but both husband and wife hold part-time jobs. The husband is also in the National Guard, awaiting deployment. While his wife is looking forward to the fact that the family’s income will increase when he is in the service, she also understands it means he will no longer be home.
The couple’s story is just one of many that Brother Tom Pearson, SX, head of the Brockton Food Pantry, hears every day. Need has increased in the last few years because of the economy, he said. Families from the “working poor” find it difficult to make ends meet, especially when paying heating costs — heating oil is running around $2 per gallon this season.
“People are now making choices between heat, utilities, rent and food,” he said. “It’s people from every walk of life.”
Single moms, working parents and immigrants come to receive food from the pantry in Brockton, which serves 14,000 people throughout the year and is the largest food pantry in the area.
The Brockton pantry has been an emergency food service agency since it was founded almost 90 years ago, said Sandra Wixted, director of community services for Catholic Charities South.
People can visit the pantry Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Monday evenings from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. While some come on a regular basis, others come only once or twice. Many are embarrassed and never expected they would need to ask for this type of help. Brother Pearson said he reminds them that their situation is temporary and they have had or will have an opportunity to give back.
After the clients — as they are called by the pantry staff — enter, they sit in a waiting room until a volunteer is available. Each person at the Brockton food pantry receives individual attention while choosing food from the shelves. They are welcomed by the volunteer, are given a shopping cart with three bags and are allowed to take a certain number of groceries from each of ten categories — proteins, canned fruit and vegetable items, condiments, juices, dairy, grain products, cosmetics such as soap and deodorant, snack items, fresh produce and meat.
The Brockton food pantry receives a majority of its food from the Greater Boston Food Bank, which is a clearinghouse for government food and receives donations from supermarkets. Some of the items from the food bank are donated, and the pantry purchases the rest. The Brockton pantry also receives food donations from local drives and monetary donations from organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which gave $19,000 this year, said Wixted.
The pantry is limited by supplies at the food bank and financial resources. Many families, based on their need, could come every month, but the food pantry cannot allow them to come more than once every three months because the pantry would otherwise not be able to meet the demand, Brother Pearson said.
In April, the Brockton pantry expanded its size and began allowing clients to choose their own food, which also increased demand, said Wixted. During October and November, the pantry served an average of 45 people per day but started running out of food. The pantry started closing an hour early at 1 p.m. and now serves an average of 30 clients per day.
“I’d love to be able to give people food every time they need it,” said Wixted. “People don’t come to food pantries unless they need the food.”
While the pantry is able to regularly offer hotdogs, hamburgers and bread, they often have shortages of other items. This week they were running low on canned vegetables, eggs, cheese, pasta and a variety of meats. Even during the holiday season, the time they receive the most donations, some of the shelves are bare.
The first few months of the new year are even more difficult because donations decrease after the holiday season, but the demand is steady throughout the winter.
“It leaves [people’s] radar, but the need is still great,” said Brother Pearson.
Brockton is just one of 15 food service locations run by Catholic Charities throughout the Archdiocese of Boston. All together, these food service locations helped people on more than 91,000 visits last year, according to Virginia Reynolds, a spokesperson for the organization.
The food service locations are divided into north, south, east and west regions. Brockton is located in the southern region. Nine of those locations are food pantries, which distribute food, and the rest hand out food vouchers.
Because of space limitations, the north region hands out vouchers — $10 for a small family and $20 for a large family. The people are incredibly grateful, even for $10, said Ellen Galligan, director of community services for Catholic Charities North.
Galligan said she has seen people facing the same difficulties in the north region as others face in the south region. In our wealthy country there are children and families who do not have enough to eat, and many poor people working 40 to 50 hours a week, she said.
“There really are a lot of people out there who have to use food service programs just to get by,” she said. “It’s a chronic problem.”
This week, Galligan assisted a single mom raising two children, who is in a work-training program, Galligan said. The woman is trying to increase her skills and get a better job.
“She received some assistance, but it’s never enough,” said Galligan.
Galligan said Catholic Charities always welcomes donations.
For more information on how you can help Catholic Charities food pantries in your area, call 617-482-5440 or visit www.ccab.org.