FORT WALTON BEACH — As the generosity of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays fades, many local food pantries are bracing for the annual dry spell.
Some organizations that overflowed with donated food just a few weeks ago already are seeing their supplies start to dwindle.
“During the holidays it was fantastic,” said Pennie Lucas, director of Caring and Sharing of South Walton.
“People just gave really tremendously, but now the pantry is low. It drops off so bad … but people still have to eat.”
The pantry on Lynn Drive in Santa Rosa Beach is busier than it’s ever been, feeding about 700 new people in December.
That same increase is being seen in Niceville and Fort Walton Beach.
“(The need) is always there,” said Nancy Manley, a volunteer at Sharing and Caring of Fort Walton Beach. “We’re getting 100 new people every month.”
The first few months of the year can be challenging for food pantries because people are getting back to their normal routines and donations tend to be low on their list of priorities.
“I think at Christmastime you have a good heart and you’re thinking of helping other people,” Manley said. “After Christmas, you just get busy with your own life.”
Terry Bridgford, manager of the food pantry at Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida, said he tries to make food supplies last longer this time of year.
“This is when it slows down,” he said. “I have to try and stagger things.”
Bridgford said the food pantry is distributing 20 more bags of food a day compared to last year.
The key to surviving the winter and replenishing local pantries is continually making the public aware of the need, Lucas said.
“My suggestion is when you go to the grocery store, just buy one extra can,” she said. “One can makes a difference.”
Lucas said her pantry particularly needs juices and baby food.
“I always have a lot of children,” she added.
Lucas and Manley said many people who seek help at their pantries have come to the area looking for work.
“People are starting slowly to go back to work, but it’s not full-time work,” Lucas said. “It doesn’t cover everything.”
At Sharing and Caring of Niceville, holiday donations are still plentiful, but volunteers say it will dwindle quickly in the coming weeks.
“We are very fortunate,” said Lynn Watson, who has volunteered at the pantry for 10 months. “This is actually a good time for us.”
Volunteers at all of the pantries said they could use staples such as hearty canned soups, cereals, canned vegetables, macaroni and cheese, pancake mix and laundry soap.
“If anything, the need increases (after the holidays),” Bridgford said. “It’s heartbreaking sometimes. Times are tough for a lot of people.”
WANT TO HELP?
Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida, 244-2825
Sharing and Caring of Niceville, 678-8459
Sharing and Caring of Fort Walton Beach, 244-0778
Caring and Sharing of South Walton, 267-2866
Sharing and Caring of Crestview, 682-1907
Striving for Perfection, 362-6977
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.