The holiday season is a busy time for food pantries and supplies may be stretched a little more this year after federal cuts in the food stamp program. The food reservoir in North Liberty serves 80 food pantries in eastern Iowa.

Director Amanda Pieper  says that during the economy’s sluggish recovery, demand for food assistance has grown steadily over the past three years. “But we’re hopeful that it’s the holiday season, the giving season, we’ll make it through,” Pieper says. They’re already on track to distribute three million pounds of food this year — nearly one million more pounds than just three years ago.

Pieper says the food reservoir’s partner agencies served 4,000 more households in 2013 than the year before.  She says it often doesn’t take much to push someone into a position where they need some help. “It’s the one medical bill, that one car repair, losing a job or getting hours cut back in providing for their family. They’ve always had means to make ends meet, and now they’re starting to see their resources run out,” Pieper explains.

The food reservoir increased its distribution by 20-thousand pounds of food a week in November,  something  Pieper attributes in part to cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits  when federal stimulus money stopped flowing. For some families, it was just a few dollars taken off their monthly allotment–for others it was more.

Iowa City area food bank director Sarah Benson-Witry says she’s been seeing families who saw their salaried jobs with benefits turn into hourly or part time work during the recession. Those jobs have hours that might be unpredictable “So some weeks they might work 30-hours a week at a job and other weeks they might only get 10,” she explains. “That makes it hard to get a second job and still plan for things like child care and transportation. But it also means that they don’t know what their income is going to be from month to month.”

Iowa City has a higher cost of living than many parts of the state and Benson-Witry says that takes a toll on low wage workers.  “The economy for low income workers has not bounced back, and it’s stayed just as bad as it was at the start of the recession,” Benson-Witry says. Benson-Witry says  that’s whey food pantries throughout the state will be relying heavily on donors and volunteers in the coming months.