Just as the population of Columbia County is growing, so is the demand at a county food bank.
Columbia County Cares Food Pantry Director Lou Reda says the number of families turning to the ecumenical, nonprofit agency each month has increased by more than 10 percent.
"When a county grows, everything grows with it, and that includes the amount of people that need help," Reda said.
Columbia County Cares relies on private donations, area churches and private organizations to provide temporary assistance to low income families and seniors.
As more families turn to the food pantry for help, Columbia County Cares is gearing up for its annual spaghetti dinner fundraiser on Sept. 14 at Marvin United Methodist Church in Martinez. Tickets for the event are $5 per person or $20 total for groups of four or more and are on sale at the food pantry and churches throughout Columbia County.
According to census records from 2000, the most recent data available, more than 4,500 residents of Columbia County live below the federal poverty line. That amounted to about 5.1 percent of the county's population in 2000.
According to data provided by the organization, in 2005, Columbia County Cares provided what amounts to a week's worth of groceries to an average of 295 families per month. Through July, the organization had provided groceries to an average of 332 families per month.
"We had been helping (about) 300 people, but recently it seems that 325 is the norm and 330 to 360 is not so unusual anymore," Reda said. So far this year, the months of May and June were the heaviest, with 387 and 389 families served, respectively.
August through December are the busiest months of the year for the charity, according to the data, which tracked families helped since 2002.
For now, the 9-year-old organization is keeping up with demand, but on occasion food items such as canned goods, breads, peanut butter and jellies run out, Reda said.
The director said he believes more people are turning to Columbia County Cares as his organization has received more publicity and through word of mouth. But unemployment rates in the area also are increasing.
According to the latest figures available from the Georgia Department of Labor, unemployment rates in the metro Augusta area increased by 1 percent from May to June. The jobless rate now stands at 6.6 percent, while the state average was 5.2 percent.
Reda said he was not sure if an increase in unemployment rates is having as big of an effect as greater publicity for the charity.
Reda said though his ultimate goal is to wipe out hunger in Columbia County, having more people turn to Columbia County Cares is not necessarily a negative. As people learn about the food pantry, "that's one more person that's eating," Reda said.
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