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Recent donations piled up at the Yellow Springs Food Pantry at the United Methodist Church, which is seeing increased demand this year for food and household goods. The pantry is expecting a donation of 1,500 food items from Mills Lawn later this week. Non-expired non-perishable food can be dropped off at the church. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Recent donations piled up at the Yellow Springs Food Pantry at the United Methodist Church, which is seeing increased demand this year for food and household goods. The pantry is expecting a donation of 1,500 food items from Mills Lawn later this week. Non-expired non-perishable food can be dropped off at the church. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Demand is up at food pantry for food and coats

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“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

The Grinch — the one who stole Christmas, that is — came to this realization watching the citizens of Who-ville sing together on Christmas morning, even without presents. In Yellow Springs, those who serve the needy are seeing the same holiday spirit of solidarity with generous donations of money, food and gifts from villagers so far this season.

Those who want to find a “a little bit more” meaning in the holiday can still help give food to the hungry, coats and hats to children who are cold and presents to children who would have none through local projects like the pantry, the Police Coat Fund and the Share the Joy anonymous gift program.

Unprecedented demand at the local pantry is being met with increased donations of food and money — this week Mills Lawn Elementary School will drop off an impressive 1,500 food items from a recent collection, while the Yellow Springs Police Coat fund is continuing to collect donations just as it finds new local children needing warm winter gear, bringing in $600 in contributions in the last week alone.

“It is a really generous town,” said Patti McAllister of the Yellow Springs Food Pantry, who continues to run the program as a volunteer because, “We have hungry people and I know a lot of us can help — we are very fortunate.”

In addition, parishioners at St. Paul Catholic Church are continuing to support a 30-year tradition of delivering fruit baskets on Christmas Eve to Lawson Place residents and those spending the holiday alone, which is this year about 50 households, according to Juanita Richardson of the church. Villagers can also buy anonymous gifts for Yellow Springs and Miami Township residents who request them through the Share the Joy project at the Yellow Springs Public Library.

The relatively affluent village has its share of people in need. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people living in poverty in Yellow Springs doubled, to 15 percent of the population, higher than state and national averages, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yellow Springs’ unemployment rate, at 11 percent in 2010, was also higher than Dayton’s and Ohio’s unemployment rate of around 9.5 percent.

Demand at the pantry grows

This year more people have been lining up at the Yellow Springs Food Pantry, which serves hungry people living in the 45387 zip code on a biweekly and emergency basis.

In recent years demand has doubled, from about 15 individuals and families bi-weekly to around 35. A few weeks ago, more than 50 individuals and families showed up for food, according to McAllister.

The pantry is open on the second and fourth Thursday of the month from 2 to 4 p.m. in the basement of the Yellow Springs United Methodist Church at 202 South Winter St. In addition, those who need food in an emergency can contact McAllister at 937-767-1650.

While the local pantry used to attract mostly older people on fixed incomes, McAllister is now seeing more young families too, including one family with eight children. Unemployment is a chronic problem for her clients, and continuing cuts to the federal Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, are also exacerbating hunger in the community, she said. Most recently, in November, money from the stimulus program that had boosted the federal program expired, reducing food benefits to an average of $1.40 per meal in 2014, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. According to census figures, more than 100 people in the 45387 zip code, or about five percent of the population, use the federal program.

For many local people, the Yellow Springs Food Pantry is a lifesaver, and remains unique among area food pantries, according to McAllister. As a “choice pantry,” its clients can choose the food they want, rather than having items pre-bagged for them. McAllister said she hopes to keep it that way by having a well-stocked, efficiently-run pantry. The local pantry also offers items that few others do, such as cleaning and paper products like toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent and dish soap and toiletries like shampoo and razors. Monetary donations are used to purchase those necessities, which are always in high demand because the federal food stamp program doesn’t cover these taxable goods.

Local support has been tremendous this year, McAllister said, and has come in the form of a constant trickle of food from villagers and larger batches from events like the Zombie Walk as well as local Yoga and Zumba classes. Villagers have also increasingly shared the harvest from their gardens in the summer and fall by dropping off fresh fruits and vegetables. Cucumbers, peppers, greens, green beans and other produce always fly off the tables when they’re available, McAllister said, while some villagers have even stayed and talked with the pantry’s clients about recipe ideas.

McAllister, who hears a “lot of sad tales” at the pantry, also finds it inspiring to see villagers donate to help those in need. Wherever she goes villagers are handing her checks for the pantry, she said.

Donations can be made by dropping off non-perishable food and goods at the church or in bins at the village offices or Tom’s Market. Villagers can also send checks made out to the Yellow Springs United Methodist Church with “food pantry” in the memo to 202 South Winter St., Yellow Springs, OH 45387.

The pantry does not accept expired food items — they have to throw the majority of them away, so villagers should check the expiration dates before making a donation, McAllister urged.

Coats keep kids warm

For more than 20 years, the Yellow Springs Police Coat Fund has kept local children warm by purchasing coats, hats, gloves and boots for those who need them. This year, winter weather came early, so in November Chief Tony Pettiford took about 16 local kids shopping to get the gear they needed for the season. Since then the police have helped to clothe another eight, while requests continue to come in directly to the police station and through the Yellow Springs schools, which annually forwards names of needy children from kindergarten to sixth grade, many of whom don’t own coats or proper winter attire.

Thankfully, with the additional demand, villagers are responding in kind, according to Pettiford, who says his “best day of the year” is taking the local children shopping for their new winter gear.

“I’m excited to watch them get something new – It’s an early Christmas for them,” Pettiford said, adding that he also is delighted to drive around the village in his cruiser and see kids wearing their new coats.

Financial donations can be made at the Yellow Springs police station on the first floor of the John Bryan Community Center. Checks should be made out to the “Yellow Springs Police Coat Fund.” Donations will still be accepted after the holidays and used throughout the year to purchase school supplies, clothes or other necessities for local children.

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