Food Pantries--increasing use because?

I work in a weekly food pantry that provides free groceries to anyone who shows up and claims to need them. We’ve been operating that way since the Pandemic started and we stopped requiring people to give us their names and addresses and so on. A few months ago we were getting about 25 “clients” a week. That number has been gradually climbing, with more than 40 a week during November. Last week we had 52. Since local unemployment is low, I’m attributing that mostly to the cost of groceries (plus word of mouth about the free groceries spreading). Since the groceries that we give out are very basic kinds of things, most of the people who wait in line really need the groceries.

Anyhow, I wonder how many of you are seeing the same thing in other areas.

It’s kind of discouraging. This is just outside of Washington, D.C, not in an impoverished area at all.


On the other hand, the DC area has a pretty high cost of living. So the higher income can easily get spent on housing.

On the economic side, we still haven’t seen the recession that is being forecast. So I can see things getting worse over the next few months. Which will translate into more folks seeking help at places like food pantries.

Good for you for helping out in such a tangible way.


I donate cash to our local food bank. They say their demand is up 30% this year. I recently read that about 20% of the local population gets food at the food bank. This seems very high. I wonder whether people who aren’t really in need but just want free food are exploiting the food bank.

Anyone who has a cell phone isn’t desperate enough to need a food bank. I saw women with professional manicures getting free supplies at an event for the homeless.


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I volunteer at a food bank at a college in the area (also outside DC) and we’re seeing increased use by our student population as well. The Maryland minimum wage is $13.25, far above the Federal minimum wage of $7.25, but even that is pauperism in a region where a one bedroom apartment costs an average of $9/hr ($1500/mo x 12 months / 2000/hrs = $9/hr). Someone making the average hourly wage of $19/hr is spending 47% of their pretax income on rent. In light of these numbers, is it any wonder food pantry use (and homelessness) is on the rise?


A cell phone is an essential to be employed in many jobs where ‘we need you to show up now for a shift’ happens - e.g. hospitality, social care - but many of those jobs don’t pay well enough to cover rent, childcare, energy costs. Delivery/logistics? Again, you’re going to need a phone.

Also, bluntly, a functional cell phone will cost you $100-200 and provide 2-3 year’s free entertainment if there’s a wifi point nearby or if you download some free games. It provides socialisation opportunities for people who can’t afford to go out to bars, cafes, restaurants etc. How far does $100 get you through a food bill annually?

I think there are a lot of people who bought a house some time ago, or who aren’t working minimum-wage jobs, who don’t realise how completely insane rents have become in much of the world and how it has become the primary factor driving people to food banks. For example, in Dublin in recent years, there are white collar workers who are having to use foodbanks because the rents are just blisteringly high and wages have not kept up.

Generally, I’m always surprised when people think cell phones are a luxury that the poor don’t deserve. Spend some time in modern poverty and minimum wage/part-time work, then see how you feel about cell phones being a luxury, especially e.g. for a single parent in a rental.

We should be grateful that such a tool exists to lift so much suffering from the poor and give them opportunity, so incredibly cheaply.

Manicures, on the other hand, I have no sympathy for whatsoever.


After your post, I checked in with a friend who lives in our general area and volunteers her time at a weekly food pantry. Here’s her response:

Sadly, our numbers of people in need have dramatically increased since last spring. Dartmouth United Outreach outgrew the church and we have since merged with the Southcoast YMCA’s Full Plate Project. Because of our merger, we are the busiest food market in the Southcoast. We are now averaging serving 600 households on a Tuesday afternoon. That = approximately 2,500 people! It’s a combination of people not being able to stretch a dollar anymore because of inflation. We also have alot of seniors who sometimes end up raising their grandchildren…so many people fall through the cracks for government assistance. Our program provides a much needed bridge. We are also hosting our third annual toy drive for the children of our food recipients. We are providing toys to over 600 children this year. That’s ALOT of toys! It’s become a full time job on top of managing the food bank and ramping back up with my small business.

There seems to be a tremendous need out there. I hope we all find it within ourselves to share our blessings with those that are not a fortunate this Holiday Season.



I guess you’re not aware that low-income folks can get a free “Obamaphone” and either buy a few minutes/month to handle essential calls (jobs, healthcare, etc.) or simply text for free over wifi. Virtually everyone I know at Detroit soup kitchens has one. As for the manicure, you don’t know the details. Some soup-kitchen regulars I know do it themselves at very little cost, or they barter with a friend/relative: you do my nails, I’ll babysit for you.

That said, some folks with very little money (my late mother, for example) make consistently stupid financial decisions. It can be infuriating to see this happen. But I don’t begrudge them food.


I disagree about the cell phone. You can’t find a job or call a cab or many, many other necessities without one in our area. I agree that a few of the people who come in for food aren’t desperate, but it is inconvenient enough that it takes quite a bit of motivation. Around here free cash goes for rent, and there is very little left for food.

  1. I don’t live in the US. Most people don’t. For 95% of humanity, this is not an option. So the idea that smartphone use by the poor should be stigmatised remains absolutely not acceptable to me as the sort of thought that a kind-hearted person would think.

  2. I challenge you to name one object, other than a public library, that could provide limitless self-directed education (right up to PhD level) and entertainment (of all forms; music, tv, gaming, books), and participation in society (communication, creativity) for just $100 - $200 to any poor person anywhere in the world, 100% of the hours of the day.

Even public libraries aren’t open most of the day. I do not believe a minimum-function ‘obamaphones’ for text messaging/voice calls (looking at pictures of examples) are remotely like what I am describing.

A regular $100 smartphone will let someone take a virtual seat in a lecture hall of an Ivy League university, learning knowledge that will give them a $150,000 salary down the line, enjoying lectures by the greatest minds on the planet… for free.

The idea that poor or unemployed people deserve only the absolute minimum of access to education and entertainment is a pretty disgusting idea in my view.

It’s baffling to me that the same people who hand out food then expect the poor to sit around without access to education, literature, human culture, communication to other people that anyone with $100 in their pocket can enjoy.

I did a little research and it seems there is a lot of disinformation about the ‘obamaphone’ program. Snopes has coverage: ObamaPhones |

Anyway, I am not suggesting that anyone should hand out smartphones to the poor - though obviously it is wonderful if you do. But looking down on people for putting a tiny fraction of their money (on a 3 year basis, $30-50/year), towards food for the brain and food for the soul and deliberately subsidising that decision by using public food banks, I don’t have any problem with them doing that at all (as someone who also donates to food banks).


Two different metrics. On a global basis, the cell phone is ubiquitous. I have walked through the slums of Mumbai and marveled that even some of the world’s poorest people own and use cell phones (seemed like all of them). OK, not the latest iPhone, but some sort of mobile phone. These are available used from street vendors at very low (from a Western perspective) prices. SIM chips are inexpensive in most Asian countries and in some countries (Indonesia and the Philippines come to mind) Facebook is the primary way that the locals communicate with their relatives in their diaspora.

That said, few things have gotten my goat more than to see everyone except me pay for groceries with food stamps and then see well coifed/manicured, fur coated women get into their Mercedes and drive off.

OTOH, I play bridge at one of the hundreds of “Older Person” centers funded through NYC Department of the Aging (at least the ones I’m aware of are all well run and do a great job in providing complete daily social programs as well as free healthy/tasty meals). There is pretty much a “requirement” that you eat a pretty well designed catered lunch (I guess they get compensated when people eat). I feel a bit guilty so I throw a few bucks each time into the “donations” box (not really knowing who gets those, but hoping it’s the staff). One of the local banks runs a food/coat/toy drive each year that we donate to, but frankly, NYC has done such a complete job of providing multiple sources of healthy food for the poor and the elderly, augmented by religious organizations (generally with City funding) that there is no reason for anyone to go hungry.

This, along with a wide breadth of other social programs is, I guess, the product of having the highest taxes in the country, which I guess allows me to simultaneously b*tch about how high my taxes are and chastise those whose governments don’t provide enough to make sure their constituents are well fed and housed.



“Obamaphone” is a slang term. The program that provides virtually free phones (with limited minutes month) is real. Providers set up kiosks in low-income areas in Detroit. The phones are perfectly functional “smart” Android devices that provide Web access, so if you are somewhere that provides free Wifi, you’re good to go.


I’m just wondering how often or how many of these you might have seen? I’ve never seen any one fitting that description in all my days of shopping. And in Maine/NH in the winter you might even expect a fur coat.


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Maybe it’s just me, but I seldom pay much attention to how people are paying for their groceries. Not on my radar.

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Nice try to shift who started it, but they are really “shrubphones”, because that is who originally authorized them.


Jim, I live in a largely immigrant neighborhood. The Asians and Hispanics in the area who use “food stamps” (actually a credit card-like object) generally look pretty legitimate, but, for example, the Russian immigrants wear clothing and jewels which look like a year’s salary of the others and also pay with food stamps. America is a great country.



In 2019 the stats were pointing to the suburbs being more poverty stricken than the inner cities. Families can cover that up a bit.

Part of inner city living is having middle class neighbors who buy low priced real estate because of the country’s history. Some 60% of African Americans are middle class.

The USA Latino economy now would rank as the 5th largest economy in the world.

Hard working people do not squander things.


People in poverty do not go from middle class to material dead.

Nor should they.

More importantly means testing people which is where this is leading is dangerous to our society. It stifles the future of our economy as excluding people from having a future. It is pure foolishness.

I do not judge someone based on buying potato chips. There is no law broken.

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Your bank accounts would be several times lower if you came up in a state with a minimum of care and a minimum wage of $7.25. Just read Florida’s minimum wage is in the $5 neighborhood. There are old people in Florida but very few adults.

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Fortunately, my bank account has not had to depend on minimum wage for quit a while :slight_smile:



I am not talking about you or anyone here earning minimum wage.

I am talking about your business clients paying minimum wage and thinking your rates are high.

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