Sherry Love, a cook at the Kansas City Rescue Mission, makes a mean pot of soup, so it’s a good thing the shelter’s refrigerator is full of ham bones.
“We’ll pull those out and she’ll make ham and beans, and there is nothing wrong with beans,” said Julie Larocco, the mission’s chief development officer. “We got cooks here who know how to make a little go a long way.”
But this month they’ve stretched the food budget about as far as it will go, Larocco said.
The rescue mission is scraping the bottom of the pot for the first time in recent memory — thanks in part to having more mouths to feed because of a new program — and it’s asking the community for help.
“We budget a certain amount for everything, including food, and when that is gone we are done,” Larocco said. “We eat what is available, whatever comes through the door. But we never know if what comes through the door will be enough.”
The mission isn’t alone in facing this challenge. Even as the economy shows signs of improving, other agencies feeding the hungry say they also have been struggling to keep enough food in the cupboards to serve their clients.
• Until two months ago, the shelves at Raytown Emergency Assistance were “bone empty,” said director Al Brown. “We had two food drives and the shelves look pretty good now.”
But Brown said that because summer donations are slow and the economy has made so many more needy, “the food goes out of here four times faster than it comes in. Call me in two weeks and we’ll be empty again.”
• Episcopal Community Services, which serves lunch at the Kansas City Community Kitchen five days a week and provides meals on wheels to 500 to 600 people, is “very short on food,” said Nancy Waters, office manager.
“But I don’t think we are in as dire straits as the rescue mission. We do have plenty of produce,” harvested from their community gardens.
• At the Salvation Army, which has several locations in the metro area for men, women and children, “our concern is with our food pantries,” said Joyce Schau, division of social services director.
The one or two free and reduced-priced meals that kids used to get in school, she said, they now have to eat at home during the summer. That adds to the need of poor families.
“Hunger is a huge issue in the region,” said Ellen Feldhausen, spokeswoman for Harvesters the Community Food Network, which serves non-profit agencies feeding the hungry in 26 counties. The rescue mission is a client.
“We do hear from our agencies that they are having to feed more hungry and many of them are stretched to try to serve the people who come to them,” Feldhausen said.
The rescue mission, which provides more than 90,000 meals and 37,000 beds for hungry homeless men each year, is seeing both greater demand and fewer donations, Larocco said.
Usually by summer the number of homeless staying in the shelter at 1520 Cherry St. shrinks substantially. But not this year, she said. Rough economic times have put a lot of people out of work and eventually on the streets.
“The first-time homeless don’t have addiction, but what they do have is fear, fear of being on the streets, and they are aggressively looking for work,” she said.
The shelter started a program allowing these new homeless to stay until they get a job and enough money pulled together to put a roof over their heads.
“We want to let them get back on their feet sooner so they don’t end up among the chronically homeless,” Larocco said.
But that has meant the number of people eating in the shelter hasn’t gone down this summer from the normal high-capacity periods in winter. And the food budget hasn’t increased.
On top of that, Larocco said, “the cost of things has gone up dramatically,” and donations to the shelter are not as big in the summer as in the winter when people are thinking about the homeless out in the cold.
“At this point, we just aren’t able to provide the nutritious and filling meals the Kansas City Rescue Mission is known for,” said Tara Richardson, food service manager. “I’ve had to reduce the portion sizes and get really creative about what we serve each day. Whatever people donate, that’s what I have to work with.”
On Thursday morning, cooks chopped up leftover French fries, added some sausage, onions and cheese, and made a breakfast casserole.
The rescue mission starts a new fiscal year in July. Larocco is concerned that even with a fresh infusion of cash, the slow economic recovery could put them in the same position later in the year.
For now, she said, “cash is great.”
“What we need is protein, ground beef, hot dogs, chicken — the men will eat chicken every day,” she said.
And they need it in large quantities, like 60 pounds of chicken for one meal.
“Most people don’t realize how much food it takes for just one meal for us,” Larocco said.