Since 1984 Neighbor To Neighbor has served the Pine Bluff community with food, clothing and utility assistance. But recent shortages have affected the organization’s ability to meet the increasing needs of its clients.
During the first six months of the year, Executive Director Charlotte England said the organization provided 18,347 people with lunches, emergency food and senior supplemental food. Maintaining that level of support during the second half of the year has presented some challenges.
The supplemental food distribution has been hit hardest. Supplemental food bags, consisting of non-perishable items — mostly can goods, are distributed once per month.
“A lot of people depend on us for that bag each month,” England said. “It’s a supplement. Something to help them make it a little longer when added to whatever they may already have.”
As director for nine years, England said a certain amount of shortage is normal during the summer months because of some who normally give, as an individual or through their church, changing their routine.
“We have some of the most generous people in this community. But during the summer people go away, take vacations and things like that.”
But helping those is need is a year-round endeavor, she said.
Several other factors, however, have also impacted the current shortage. In the past, during times of slower donations, the organization used food received from other large donors to get them through the year.
“We are not a government agency, so we depend on other agencies like the annual food drive sponsored by the Post Office, the United Way, churches and civic organizations. “But other organizations are also facing shortages, so we simply didn’t get as much this year.”
Additionally, England said the steadily increasing cost of food has negatively impacted how much food individuals can purchase.
“Some people may have to think twice now about that can of beans that they would normally give away. They have to take care of their own homes too,” she said.
England said the number of supplemental food bags — about 650-700 per month — being distributed has remained the same so far, but the amount of food in each bag has decreased. Even a small decrease, she said, can cause hardships.
Delores Hampton has been coming to the organization since her children were small. Now, at 65 years old, she lives on a fixed income and said she and others look forward to picking up their bags each month.
“If I could not get this food, I would miss it,” she said. “Whatever I get here means extra money I don’t have to spend at the grocery story.”
With other bills to pay, Hampton said she depends on the help.
“Some of our clients live on $500-$600 per month,” England said. “And that is for everything. It’s just staggering to think about. Many of them are elderly people who can’t just change their financial situation. It’s heartbreaking.”
Though the shelves in the storage room are nearly bare, England is hopeful.
“I have great faith in this community. Pine Bluff has a wonderful giving heart and we are going to get through this,” she said. “It’s just that sometimes people don’t realize there’s a need. They see us continuing to do what we do, but they don’t see our empty shelves.”
For more information about Neighbor To Neighbor, contact the office at 534-2883.