CUMBERLAND, R.I. — The number of Rhode Island families receiving federal assistance to buy food jumped by more than 65 percent in the final months of the 2020-2021 school year, according to information from the US Department of Agriculture.
Just over 90,000 families received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program emergency allotments in May, up from about 54,000, according to extensions filed monthly by the R.I. Department of Human Services.
The USDA projects that number could hover around 82,000 in October.
From March 2020 until April, all SNAP-eligible households received the maximum benefit amount for their household size, RI DHS said. This benefit received on the first of each month was calculated based on eligibility. Households that did not receive the maximum amount received a supplemental payment to bring them to the maximum amount.
Beginning in May, a minimum $95 supplemental payment was set for SNAP households.
Now leaders of Rhode Island food pantries are worried that when the SNAP emergency allotments end, or when a moratorium on evictions end, the need for food will surge.
November is typically the busiest time of year for food demands.
Robert Chaput, co-executive director of the Northern Rhode Island Food Pantry, says the pandemic has raised the need for food to a consistently higher level. The needs are much higher than before the pandemic when food banks were already stressed, he said.
The Cumberland Mom’s Club, a Cumberland, R.I.-based, support network for mothers, has already begun its Thanksgiving food drive to support the Northern R.I. Food Pantry. They will be collecting non-perishable food items from now until Nov. 13.
Pick-up or drop-offs can be arranged with the Mom’s Club by contacting April Do at 508-962-9909 or emailing them at CumberlandMomsClub@gmail.com.
While the food drive has a Thanksgiving theme — they’d like to give families turkeys, cranberry sauce, and stuffing — they are also asking people to donate stable foods like peanut butter, canned soup, fruit, vegetables, fish, beans, and pasta.
Mothers can also find updates on the group’s website about playdates and activities at: https://sites.google.com/view/cumberlandmomsclub/.
“The need for food donations has always been a big amount,” said club member April Do. “The Northern R.I. Food Pantry has lines and lines of people. We made even more of a push this year to get the food drive on every page, going to the schools hoping they can get packages as well.”
Lisa Roth Blackman, chief of philanthropy officer at Rhode Island Community Food Bank, recommends donors make monetary donations for food instead of going to the store and purchasing it themselves.
“We can leverage your dollar more than you can because we are buying by the truckload,” Roth Blackman said. “Donations of funds allow us to bring in high-quality food, including produce.”
Monetary donations can be made at rifoodbank.org. The R.I. Community Food Bank accepts food donations at its office located at 200 Niantic Ave., Providence. The building is not open to the public, so if you have food, drop it off inside the front door inside the collection bins.
Roth Blackman said the food bank distributed 15.1 million pounds of food last year.
“We usually see an uptick in the need for food around October and November in with heating costs,” Roth Blackman said.
Mario Bueno, executive director at Progreso Latino Inc., a nonprofit organization that serves Rhode Island’s Latino and immigrant communities, said they support about 250 families a day.
Progreso Latino also provides social service assistance to Latino families, including adult education classes, pre-GED and GED, job development, senior services, immigration services, career and economic development, advocacy, and civic engagement opportunities.
“The kids that are back to school they’ll benefit from the regular lunch program,” Bueno said. “But that program that was conducted via SNAP assisted families as well. Reduced SNAP benefits will be felt and there will be a need there.”
The Progreso Latino Food Pantry is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Knights of Columbus, 20 Claremount St., Central Falls, R.I.
Bueno said they are in need of volunteers to help during the week.
Joyce Leven, community development director at Family Service of R.I., said the group started the “Be Safe Campaign” during the pandemic that allows people to request free food and personal protective equipment. The items get delivered to their home anywhere in the state.
The Be Safe program began in March 2019.
The bulk of the program’s deliveries are made in Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls where COVID-19 cases have been at high levels.
“We all provide masks, we provide cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizer,” Leven said. “We have an outreach to several schools as well.
“We have a driver on board and volunteers that are able to deliver to people within five to seven days,” she added.