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Reno food pantry sees surge of new families

For the past month, St. Vincent's Food Pantry has seen a surge of new families showing up at its doors each day. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss stopped by the organization's busy headquarters in downtown Reno this week to learn more about this growing local need.

Volunteers at the pantry's warehouse are always busy this time of year. While some are hauling pallets of canned and nonperishable food around on forklifts, others are assembling the hundreds of boxes given out to families in need each day.

A family can receive one box a month, and ideally, it'll contain seven days worth of food. The pantry's director Scott Cooksley says that more recently, each box may only cover four or five days because his staff been flooded with new families seeking help, a change that has stretched their resources significantly.

"We hear that the economy's gotten better," Cooksley says. "There's more jobs out there, which is wonderful for our area--we need that. But we don't see it here on the ground level. We have not seen a decrease of new families; this past month or so, it's shot up dramatically."

Since mid-October, the number of new families coming in each day has more than tripled compared with the same month a year ago from thirty to almost a hundred. That's an additional 3,000 families in just the past month, and some are waiting in line for more than an hour.

Cooksley talks to his clients every day and hears stories that illustrate the financial pressure many of these families are under despite improved economic conditions across the region.

"You're see Mom and Dad moving in with their parents or taking their parents in," he explains, "or you're see divorcees actually getting back together because it's cheaper and makes more sense for them to live together."

Last year, St. Vincent's Food Pantry gave out 3.1 million pounds of food and Cooksley predicts that number will top 4 million by the end of this year. The pantry is one of several services run by Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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