As federal unemployment benefits end, North Carolina charities and food banks prepare for increase in need

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Food banks and charitable organizations are preparing for an increase in clients as federal unemployment benefits expire this week.

Through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, recipients were eligible to receive $600 per week on top of their state benefits.

In North Carolina, which has some of the lowest unemployment benefits in the country, this made a marked difference.

Starr Markham, who has worked as a stagehand at local theaters for three decades, says she receives $187 from state unemployment.
"There's going to be a lot of people that are now going to be really, really reliant on other local services. That means churches, other community organizations are going to be overwhelmed," Markham said about the ending of the additional $600 payments.

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Both the Food Bank of Central and Eastern Carolina and the Salvation Army of Wake County tell ABC11 they have seen an increase in the number of first-time clients since the beginning of the pandemic.

"We have definitely seen an increase in need since we started our initial response on March 16th. Using some Feeding America Data and projecting ahead, right now what we're seeing is about a 38 percent increase in food insecurity over what we were seeing prior to the crisis hitting," said Jessica Whichard, with the Food Bank of CENC.

While requests for help have tapered off since the beginning of the pandemic -- due in part to enhanced unemployment benefits and rehirings -- Whichard is preparing for some of that progress to stall with the end of the payments.

"Kind of for our own purposes, we're kind of getting ourselves back in that mindset of the very early days of this crisis," said Whichard.

"Families already experiencing homelessness, as those (benefits) run out I think we'll see that need. But also families and individuals who may be entering homelessness maybe for the first time. And just trying to think ahead and preparing for the need increasing," said Katie Gonzalez, with the Salvation Army of Wake County.

Both Whichard and Gonzalez said they are grateful for strong community support in the form of donations, but acknowledged a dip in volunteers, largely due to social distancing guidelines and health concerns.

"We have not had the larger groups that we were used to seeing. We're keeping those numbers small which has been a little bit of a challenge in terms of turning the bulk food that we get turned around into family-sized items. We also were really fortunate to have the National Guard with us for quite a few weeks to help kind of offset the dip in volunteers. They actually finished their tour with us so we are looking to continue the call for volunteers who are comfortable and able to come in," said Whichard.

Gonzalez shared which items were of particular need.

"Those non-perishable goods, canned greens, rice, pasta, and fruit," Gonzalez said.

The nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found about 26 million American adults did not have enough to eat due to financial constraints -- a problem that also ensnared another 8 to 15 million children. Black and Hispanic families felt this burden at more than twice the rate of white families.

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"I've talked to a few of the other food pantries too and they're also anticipating that need increasing so that's why there's donations coming in and everything as we prepare for that. We might (be) okay right now, but we will need to anticipate for the coming months of that need increasing," said Gonzalez.

Lawmakers are continuing to discuss a future plan to extend or replace the $600 weekly benefits from Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.

Early indications are that future funding would be for a lesser weekly amount. If you're interested in donating to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern Carolina, click here. If you're interested in volunteering, click here. If you're in need of assistance, click here. If you're interested in donating to The Salvation Army of Wake County, click here. If you're in need of assistance, click here.
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