If there was any doubt about what the impact of exploding food costs, high gas prices, soaring rent costs and ongoing interest rate hikes are having on Niagara Falls families, Pam Sharp said you need only look at the Project SHARE’s annual back-to-school assistance program.
In a single year, the number of families forced to turn to the charity for help with outfitting their children with must-have items such as backpacks and assorted school supplies more than doubled.
On top of that, those soaring food prices combined with dropping food donations from the public have Sharp, the executive director of the agency, bracing for what is likely shaping up to be a difficult fall and Christmas time.
At Project SHARE’s location on Stanley Avenue, Stamford Kiwanis Club president Dave Wheeler showed up with a cheque for $10,000 for the charity, money raised from the proceeds of the Kiwanis TV bingo program broadcast on Sunday nights on YourTV cable television.
Sharp said the money is badly needed.
Last year, her agency served 320 kids through the back-to-school program. This year, that number skyrocketed to 740 kids.
That comes as Project SHARE and other Niagara emergency food banks see demand reaching record levels, and the Niagara Falls Soup Kitchen has seen the number of people showing up for free lunches double since the start of the pandemic, with close to 300 lunches being given out daily.
“It’s a combination of everything,” said Sharp. “It’s the economic impacts of the pandemic, it is the cost of food and gas and housing. People are just not able to meet their needs right now.”
Sharp said her agency sees regular clients who show up for their monthly allotment of emergency food, but is also seeing families that intermittently need help when expenses such as back to school, Christmas meals, prescriptions or even new eyeglasses come up.
“Some families come to us all the time, they come to us for their monthly (food) pickup,” said Sharp. “Other families get by with the day to day, but as soon as there’s an additional expense … they just can’t stretch their budgets any further and they come to us.”
Sharp said her agency has turned its attention to its busy fall season and preparing for what’s promising to be a challenging year for its annual Christmas program — which saw registration numbers soar last year.
Many families will struggle putting food on the table this fall, and that comes at a time when donations of food from the public are declining, said Sharp.
“When the pandemic first hit we did see a lot of support come through because people saw immediately the need,” she said. “But that support has only carried us for so long and now donations are declining because the rising cost of food is impacting everybody, our donors and our clients.
Project SHARE is holding food drives at different Niagara Falls grocery stores each weekend until September, and Sharp said she’s hoping to get the message out there during Hunger Education Month in September about how great the need is right now for donations.
“We’re really needing to get out there and ask and share our message … to let people know that we need their support more than ever,” she said.
The Kiwanis’ Wheeler said his club, which is also working with the city’s Staples store to get much-needed school supplies to kids at a couple of downtown schools, supports Project SHARE because it directly impacts kids who are a main focus of Kiwanis.
“We know the need is growing (but) we will not rest until every child is happy, healthy, safe and loved,” he said. “Kiwanis Club of Stamford’s job is to serve the children of Niagara Falls.”