Food bank looking for assistance

CHESTER – A case of declining resources and increasing need is forcing a group of helpers in Chester to ask for help.

The Chester-Newell FISH has temporarily suspended its $10 gift card program and may be forced to cut back on its weekly food distribution if donations don’t pick up soon, said recording secretary Cathy Glass.

“Someone asked for a gift card (on Saturday) to buy milk and bread, and we had to explain that the cupboard looks like Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard,” Glass said. “It’s not unusual for us to go through a dry spell in the summer, but we’ve had so many requests for help that we’re in pretty bad shape right now.”

Glass said FISH’s current balance of $1,934 will not go far, given that the organization helps 20 to 30 families a week with groceries. A typical trip to the grocery store costs FISH $600 to $700 – and that’s just for staples, she said.

The group recently reached out to Hancock County commissioners for help, saying in a letter dated July 1 that “our resourceful volunteers have now turned into beggars.” Commissioners said they will add FISH’s request to the special projects fund list, which could see action late this month or early in August.

“We hope we’ll get something,” Glass said. “This is a first for our organization, as far as soliciting the commissioners is concerned. We’ve never done anything like that before.”

The Chester-Newell FISH was founded in 1972, although the original FISH program traces its origins to England during World War II. After a FISH program opened in East Liverpool in the late 1960s, the Rev. Joseph Fata of St. Aloysius Catholic Church introduced the idea to a group of volunteers in the Chester-Newell area, Glass said.

Today, FISH serves people in Chester, Newell and New Manchester with a weekly food pantry that operates out of the basement of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Chester.

At one time, the pantry was in operation five days a week, and food was delivered to people’s homes. Now the pantry is open at 10 a.m. Saturday, and clients are asked to pre-register by phone before picking up their food parcel, Glass said.

Clients must show proof of residence in one of the three served communities.

Until now, FISH has relied on donations of money and food supplies from schools, churches, community organizations, businesses and individuals.

The year 2012 ended on a strong note – with the help of a bequest and grants from the LaPosta-Banketas Foundation, Hancock County Savings Bank and Chester VFW Post 6450 – but in 2013, expenses outstripped income by $7,244, Glass said.

The organization was able to cover the deficit because of a healthy balance at the time. Glass believes the increasing need in the area has contributed to FISH’s financial burden.

In 2012, FISH served 900 families and spent more than $16,000 on groceries; in 2013, it served 1,050 families and spent nearly $25,000 on groceries, Glass said.

“The amount of need in the area has increased,” she said. “We see an influx of two families living in the same household – young families moving back in with their parents. There just isn’t enough to go around.”

Glass said 93 percent of FISH’s budget goes toward the purchase of groceries and gift cards. The remaining 7 percent pays for the answering service and phone. The church offers its facilities to FISH rent-free.