CUMBERLAND – When extra benefits for people enrolled in the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ended earlier this year, volunteers at St. Anthony Place in Cumberland noticed an uptick in the number of people coming to the food pantry for help.
Additional SNAP allotments had been authorized by Congress to assist those most in need during the coronavirus pandemic, but returned to pre-pandemic levels in March.
“When everyone was getting that additional $200 a month per family for SNAP, the pantries were much quieter,” said John Minnich, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Mountains who volunteers at St. Anthony Place. “Now, the reality of it is sinking in for many people. It’s been busier here, and I think that will continue through the year as people are being pinched in their pocketbooks.”
Earlier, St. Anthony Place, located at the St. Mary campus of Our Lady of the Mountains, might have helped one or two people a day on its Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. Today, the food pantry sometimes sees 10 families at a time.
In June, St. Anthony Place served 331 people, a 40 percent increase from the same month a year earlier. In July, the pantry served 339 people, also a 40 percent increase from last year.
In total, St. Anthony Place helped 2,194 people in 2022 – a 200 percent increase from when its doors first opened in 1997 at its original location of what is now the Shrine of Ss. Peter and Paul in Cumberland. The pantry moved to St. Mary before the pandemic.
Some of those who visit the pantry are experiencing homelessness. Others are working families that don’t earn enough income or seniors trying to make ends meet on Social Security. Some have mental health challenges.
“We see some of the staff working at the nursing homes who come here in their scrubs,” Minnich said. “Their wages didn’t increase the way the cost of living did.”
Minnich noted that many major industries – railroading, brewing, glass manufacturing, tire production and more – have declined or left Western Maryland, leaving fewer job opportunities.
“Some of the people left behind are less competitive in the marketplace,” he said.
The shelves at St. Anthony Place are stocked with boxes of cereal, cans of soup and vegetables, pancake mix, peanut butter and more. The center also makes clothing available.
Nancy Welsh, a volunteer, noted that St. Anthony Place gives out monetary vouchers that clients may use to purchase food at two local markets. The vouchers are only available to those who have been pre-screened by social services, she said.
St. Anthony Place relies on donations of food and money from parishioners and others in the community. It is also supported by the Balch Family Endowment Fund for St. Anthony Place.
“As Catholics, we have an obligation to do this work,” Minnich said. “That’s an obligation of discipleship for us.”
Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org
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