Need for services extends far beyond holidays

by Jennie Price - Posted on Dec 22, 2010 - 04:13 PM

Photo: Virginia Department of Social Services Commissioner Martin Brown visited with Mathews County Social Services director Jo Ann Wilson-Harfst, above, and members of her staff in late November. The local Social Services director stressed that while much attention is paid to the needs of the less fortunate this time of year, that same need exists year round. Photo by Jennie Price.

Virginia Department of Social Services Commissioner Martin Brown visited with Mathews County Social Services director Jo Ann Wilson-Harfst, above, and members of her staff in late November. The local Social Services director stressed that while much attention is paid to the needs of the less fortunate this time of year, that same need exists year round. Photo by Jennie Price.

Much attention is paid to the needs of the less fortunate around the holidays, but that same need exists year round.

Nationally, the demand on aid programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps, has increased steadily over the past several years. As of May of this year, 40.8 million Americans—about one in eight—used food stamps. The number of participants reached an all-time high shortly after, in July. Six million people, or about three million households, have been added to the rolls just this past year.

According to an October USDA report, the percentage of households without cash income of any kind has more than doubled in the last 20 years. In 1989, 7 percent of households receiving food stamps had no gross income. In 2009, the number of households jumped to nearly 18 percent.

People remember to donate during the holidays, said Marianne Hunley, a benefit specialist with the Mathews County Department of Social Services, but the summer months also present a big challenge because children are home from school all day and require meals and other costly necessities.

"We need help year round," said Alissa Carter, also a benefit specialist with the Mathews department. "Clients have to live beyond the holidays."