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Local Food Pantries Like Dedham's Seeing Increase in Need

A report released last week by the Food Research and Action Center said that 15 percent of people in Massachusetts - about one in seven people - could not afford to put food on the table last year.

As food pantries across the region are seeing more and more people in need, a report released last week said about one in seven people in Massachusetts could not afford to put food on the table last year.

The report, released by the Food Research and Action Center, a non-profit that looks to wipe out hunger and malnutrition in the United States, said that 15 percent of people in Massachusetts - about one in seven people - did not have enough money to buy food that they or their family needed at some points in 2012.

This week, Patch reached out to food pantries who serve the communities of Walpole, Foxborough, Dedham, Norwood, Sharon and Stoughton who all reported a spike in the number of people they serve within the past few years.

“We’ve had a steady increase in clients over the past three years," said Dianne Sullivan, a volunteer at Walpole Community Food Pantry. "Nothing is really getting better as far as people in need.” 

Sullivan said the food pantry currently serves about 150 families in Walpole, a number that has more than doubled in the last few years.

“For a long time it was kind of leveled off at maybe around 70 families and then over the past three to four years, it’s come up to around 150,” Sullivan said.

Ruth Taeger, who volunteers at the Grace Episcopal Food Pantry in Norwood, said she is not surprised by the results of the report.

“I would say in the past two years the numbers have just kept going up, up, up," Taeger said. "We’re about 100 more families now than we were two years ago. There are new people who come through our doors every single week."

The Norwood pantry serves about 350 families.

In Dedham, food pantry president Lindsay Barich said they have seen a 25-30 percent increase.

“We had 370 families that went through the pantry last year," Barich said. "That went way up. It used to be maybe 250 families that used the pantry over the last three or four years. 

“It’s people from all walks of life. We’ve had young professionals to white collar as well as blue collar and the elderly who probably always need assistance because of that fixed income as well. So it crosses every spectrum of society."

The Ilse Marks Food Pantry, meanwhile, serves about 120-130 families in Stoughton and Sharon. Suzanne Bracker said the pantry's numbers have increased, but said she believes they are leveling off.

“I think people probably don’t realize how big of a problem it is," Bracker said. "Because people are unemployed or looking for work. We even have working families that are working a job and it’s just not paying enough for all their expenses. There’s heat, there’s utilities, sometimes for childcare, medicine and food is another big expense. So I definitely think it’s an issue.”

In Foxborough, Cheryl Hixon said the town's pantry helps feed about 450 people a month, about 3 percent of the town. That number has seen a slight increase.

“I do think it’s probably a bigger problem that most people realize,” Hixon said. “We’re a lucky town. We can feed those 3 percent pretty easily. If it ever went up to 15 we’d be in big trouble."

None of the pantries reported serving 15 percent of their communities as stated in the study. But an uptick in donations has helped them keep up with the rising demand.

“The number of donations are also up tremendously because I guess those who have are realizing the need and they’re contributing more than they ever did before,” Taeger said.

All the pantries interviewed said the best way people can help would be to donate food, money and time.

“We can’t do it alone so with everybody’s support we’re able to do it,” said Bracker.

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