Food Bank Clients Up Despite Lower Unemployment

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COLUMBIA - Boone County's division of the Food Bank, the Central Pantry, hit record high client numbers in May and June. The Central Pantry served more than 13,000 people each month, increasing their food recipient numbers by 22 percent.

 As a result, the Central Pantry is bringing in larger food totals to be able to assist those people. This year, the Food Bank is running 8 million pounds ahead of last year's record pace. The Food Bank said it isn't running low on food or supplies at this time, but some workers are stepping up because of the growing client base.

"I think the most difficult challenge is just making sure that everything is stocked and ready for the people, and the supply and demand is there," Central Pantry worker Tonia Martin said.

At the same time food recipient numbers are increasing, Boone County's unemployment rates continue to decrease. Missouri Department of Labor said Boone County reached a rate of 4.7 percent in May, making it the third lowest unemployment rate in Missouri.

Food Bank Executive Director Peggy Kirkpatrick said she's noticed this trend for a while now.

"I've been talking about that for a number of years now to anybody who will listen to me," Kirkpatrick said. "It is absolutely stunning that Boone County has either the lowest or near lowest unemployment in the state. Ever since the recession started, we've been right there, and yet the number of people needing food assistance continues to go up and up and up."

Even though the unemployment rate is decreasing, it doesn't mean people can afford the basic necessities like food. The City of Columbia Director of Human Resources Margrace Buckler said there are other contributing factors.

"When the economy went through the bad period that we'd gone through for the last three to four years, there wasn't a lot of movement in wages," Buckler said. "Salary, rate of pay has not kept up with the increases in gasoline particularly, medical care, food has gone way up."

In hopes of keeping up with the growing need for food, the Food Bank will launch its Hunger-Free Summer Program July 13. Willing donors will be able to contribute a dollar or more at supermarkets in Columbia when they check out.

One dollar buys the Food Bank 15 pounds of food, providing them with enough material to supply 12 and a half meals.