CHESTER — In Chester County, close to 10,000 people receive food stamps to keep away hunger.
The county’s population is only about 33,000.
So about one in three people in Chester County – the old and frail, combat veterans, babies and kids trying to learn – depend on food stamps to have close to enough to eat. Cuts in federal funding for food stamps, which went into effect Friday, sliced an average of $36 a month from the food stamp allowance that already is not enough to feed people who are broke.
“This could be catastrophic for the people of Chester,” said John Williams, who runs the Turning Point food pantry in Chester. “We already are at a point where there is not enough food to meet the needs of those who cannot make it. We are getting ready to be worse off.”
Churches, Walmart, the IGA grocery and others donate to this pantry, which already has helped 6,189 families in 2013 – with two months to go in the year. Last year, Turning Point helped 4,585 families.
“The need has skyrocketed,” Williams said. “These organizations who donate are coming to the rescue of people.”
Before the 2008 recession, with almost no increase in population since then, 7,819 people in Chester were receiving assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – the formal title of food stamps.
Now the number is 9,590.
In South Carolina, more than 877,498 people saw food stamp benefits drop Friday. At the beginning of the economic calamity in 2008 called “recession” by politicians, 623,569 people were on food stamps in the state.
More than a quarter-million more people in South Carolina are on food stamps now than in 2008.
In Lancaster County, 15,321 people are on food stamps today versus 13,003 in 2008.
In York County, 34,669 people receive food stamps. That’s about one in every seven people. York County had 23,408 people on food stamps when the economy collapsed five years ago.
“We already saw an immediate increase in demand for food from people already on subsistence programs after the government shutdown last month,” said Bryant Ward, executive director of Rock Hill’s Pilgrims’ Inn food pantry and charity. “Our overstock shelves are completely empty. We have never seen that.
“People already with less access to food will see less from food stamps, so they will need places like us even more.”
At Turning Point on Friday, canned goods, boxed goods and meat and dairy products were given to people who come to the food bank. Everybody on food stamps knew that cuts had happened, or would come in the next weeks.
“I don’t know where I would go without this to help me,” said Willard Crouch of Chester, who received food for his family Friday to supplement his food stamp allotment.
Another man from Chester, Bobby Campbell, said the food pantry where he received help Friday will see more people just like him, people on food stamps.
Turning Point is a nonprofit charity open from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thousands in Chester know the place even without a sign over the door. The poor and desperate need no GPS to find their way to the place.
The line outside is a giveaway. On a rainy Friday, old ladies who had worked in mills or cleaning houses for 30, 40, 50 years stood in that rain to get food.
Volunteer Susie Hinton packed bags of donated food and food bought from a statewide supplier. Each bag was made a little bit lighter to stretch the dwindling supplies that by the end Friday left bare shelves.
And now with food stamp cuts, the food will fly off the shelves faster than ever. Portions will have to be smaller. The line outside in the rain will be longer.
Friday’s lines actually were the shortest of any day of the month for one simple reason – it was the first of the month, when benefit checks for disability, Social Security, veterans service, even food stamps become available.
By the end of November, Williams said, the lines will be longer.
He and his band of volunteers will somehow stretch supplies to feed people.
“Because we have to find a way,” Williams said. “Food stamp benefits might be cut, but we cannot stop trying to help.”