Justin Wingerter

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Food pantries: they’re not just for the poor and homeless any longer.

That’s what many communities are discovering as unemployment and underemployment remain high, forcing many formerly middle class families to consider the previously unthinkable: asking for food assistance.

Glenn Koenen is the executive director at Circle of Concern in West County. He said his pantry sees five or six new families each day, many of whom aren’t accustomed to seeking help from places like Circle of Concern.

“We’re meeting a lot of people who have fallen down one or two notches,” Koenen said. “In other words, middle class families who have now moved to the lower end of the working class, and working class families who are now working poor.”

The problem, according to Koenen, isn’t unique to this year or even the previous five years. Instead, he said, the trend of “working class people needing help” has existed for the past fifteen years. However, the recent need for food pantry services among formerly middle class families has wreaked havoc on the stock at Circle of Concern.

“We’re having to buy more food this year because there’s so many more families coming to us,” Koenen said. “The good news is, donations of food have been OK but donations of money have actually been very good the last few weeks, people have been very generous.”

Koenen said empty shelves lined Circle of Concern prior to Thanksgiving of this year and he’s concerned February and March could bring similar sights around the pantry.

Regardless, he said all applicants are welcome though he worries many do not come forward either because they’re not aware of the services available or because they’re too prideful to ask for assistance.

“A lot of times families are suffering needlessly for days or weeks on end when they could already be getting help,” Koenen said. “One thing we see a lot of times is people hold out as long as they possibly can and by the time they ask for help, there’s no food left in the house, [and] they’re behind on their utility bills and rent.”

By meeting with assistance applicants in a personal and confidential setting, Koenen said he hopes to take away the hesitance some families have towards accepting assistance.

“People won’t ask for help for themselves but when it gets to the point when they can’t feed their children, they’re willing to go and ask for help.”

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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