SAN BENITO — Leticia Garcia and her family came to a food pantry to fill their Thanksgiving table as federal cuts in food stamps lead more residents to ask for help.
“That’s why we’re here — it’s really for Thanksgiving,” Garcia said as she stood in a long line recently outside the San Benito Seventh Day Adventist Food Pantry. “I’m grateful. Without their help a lot of families wouldn’t have food on their table.”
Federal cuts this month reduced her mother’s food stamp payments from $81 to $61 a month, Garcia, a home health provider, said.
“I think it’s worse with the cutbacks,” Garcia said. “There are many people in need. I’ve seen working families — they need the assistance.”
Congress in 2009 temporarily increased benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as part of a stimulus package to help people through the national recession. However, the stimulus program ended in October and monthly benefits to SNAP recipients decreased.
Rachel Cantu said area families lost about $20 to $25 in food stamp payments.
“It’s very hard,” Cantu, 69, a disabled former substitute teacher, said outside the pantry’s door. “There are no jobs (or) they don’t want to pay (enough).”
This year, the number of families that came to the pantry nearly doubled from last year, said Elva Treviño, a retired nurse who is pantry’s assistant director of community services. “There is a real need and it’s going to get worse. There are no jobs and if they get jobs, they get minimum wage.”
So far this year, the pantry has helped 209 families, an increase from 119 last year, Treviño said. About 55 more families asked for help last week.
The pantry has distributed about 3,800 pounds of food each month this year, compared with about 1,500 pounds a month last year, Treviño said.
The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, which supplies the pantry with food, faces increased demand, Omar Rodriguez, the agency’s manager of communications and advocacy, said. It distributed 5 million pounds of food in Cameron County so far this year, compared with 3.6 million pounds last year.
Rodriguez said the struggling economy has led to layoffs across the Valley, and now low-income residents are no longer the only persons who stand in line outside the Valley’s food pantries.
“We’re seeing an increase in requests for assistance — from the middle class and veterans,” Rodriguez said.
Treviño said volunteers hand out plastic bags of staples that include rice, beans, corn, cereal and canned fruit. For Thanksgiving, the pantry added canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce.
“I try to get the most nourishing things to give out,” Treviño said. “I wish I could give more.”