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Area food pantries find their cupboards are bare

Deep Well employee Sherry Pritchard looks at the near-empty shelves at the Hilton Head Island charity's food pantry on Monday. Increased demand has resulted in a shortage of food there. "Even my staples are down," Pritchard said, "usually the staples aren't this low."
Deep Well employee Sherry Pritchard looks at the near-empty shelves at the Hilton Head Island charity's food pantry on Monday. Increased demand has resulted in a shortage of food there. "Even my staples are down," Pritchard said, "usually the staples aren't this low." Jay Karr

With their shelves nearly empty, two local food pantries are struggling to keep up with pleas for help.

So far this year, Bluffton Self Help has given out 39,350 cans of food, an increase of about 35 percent over the same time last year, executive director Jenny Haney said.

The Deep Well Project on Hilton Head Island also reports donations are coming in slower than in previous years and demand is rising.

"Our pantry shelves are very sparse, and we're having a rough time keeping them full," Deep Well executive director Betsy Doughtie said. "We continue to get food from our local churches, but it's still not enough to keep up with the need."

In recent months, volunteers at Bluffton Self Help have given out an average of 1,000 cans of food per week during the agency's donation days on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Haney said.

The push is on to keep up with the demand for essentials like canned goods, boxed food and clothing. About 110 people are expected to show up today at the nonprofit agency's office on May River Road to receive food, Haney said.

"Our pantry shelves are almost empty, and the numbers of people coming in for food keeps growing," she said. "Items like peanut butter and jelly and boxed mac and cheese are like gold, and we're almost out. The need has just increased."

Haney attributed the increased demand to the sluggish economy, which has meant continued layoffs and long job searches.

"It's everybody, including the middle class," she said. "There are people coming in for food who have never asked for help before."

At Deep Well, Doughtie said the months before the holiday season when many schools and local businesses begin holiday food drives are often slow, but the organization has had more difficulty than in previous years in keeping up with demand.

"We do run low this time of year, but we're not usually as low as we are now," she said. "There are very few food drives in early autumn until the schools' food drives in mid-November, so we really appreciate the help."

In addition to donated food -- 85 percent of the food Deep Well distributes is donated -- volunteers also use cash donations to buy perishable food items such as milk, eggs, butter, cheese, chicken and ground beef. As with Bluffton Self Help, items like peanut putter and jelly are always needed, Doughtie said.

"Anything not used will be given away at Thanksgiving and Christmas," she said.

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