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Officials Say More Middle-Income Families Need Food Help

photo by: Photo by Shelley Hanson

People wait outside the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling on Wednesday. The kitchen says there are more middle income people and families seeking meals there because of inflation. It also is watching its pennies.

WHEELING – With the rising cost of nearly everything, Ohio Valley residents are trying to make their pennies stretch even more than before. Yet for many, it just isn’t enough

Those residents need assistance in the form of food from a free pantry or a meal from a soup kitchen.

Inflation in the United States is at a rate not seen in decades. In March, the rate of U.S. inflation went to 6.6%, a 40-year high. It fell to 6.3% in April, the first decline in a year and a half. Meanwhile, according to AAA, the national average gas price Friday was $4.599 per gallon, compared to $4.134 per gallon last month and $3.041 per gallon last year.

Becky Shilling-Rodocker, executive director of the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, said the makeup of the kitchen’s usual clientele has changed in some ways. There are more middle income people coming in to eat.

“There are more families than before,” she said.

She noted some believe the soup kitchen is mostly feeding the homeless, but people from all walks of life are in need.

“It’s just a matter of people who have fallen on hard times,” she said.

The soup kitchen itself is feeling the pinch, too, but has been able to maintain its menu and continue serving healthy meals, Shilling-Rodocker said.

“We’ve had a rough time, a rough go of it,” she said. “Food is more expensive in general, meat has gone up. Nothing changes with the menu. … We’re still buying food, we just have to budget a little differently.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Shilling-Rodocker said the soup kitchen’s volunteer staffing levels have not been the same, either.

“We are 100% community funded. We write grants, but we have to be careful with our budget. We’re still looking for other avenues,” she added. “Our main support is from the community. If we didn’t have all the $5 and $10 checks coming in along with the bigger grants, we wouldn’t survive. Every penny counts, literally.”

The Soup Kitchen, located at 1610 Eoff St., serves lunch between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

The House of the Carpenter on Wheeling Island has a food pantry that helps people in need who live in the Wheeling area and in Ohio.

Julie Polley, first floor manager at the House of the Carpenter, said their food pantry patrons have increased by 50% in recent weeks. Previously food was given to about 100 families per week; now about 150 families per week are in need of help.

“Last night we had 15 families come in a two-hour span. That’s astronomical for what it used to be before the rising prices of gas and food,” Polley said.

“There are lots of new faces that haven’t had to use the pantry before. There are working families that are going where they can to find assistance. It’s definitely a shift in who all is coming in for help,” she said. “We’re talking two-people working families that come in, not just single-working families coming in.”

Polley said the House relies heavily on donations, but also purchases food from the Mountaineer Food Bank. However, there are not as many options from that state food bank as in the past.

“We also do a lot of ordering through Riesbeck’s. They’re trying to order their quantities and it’s a struggle for their store as well,” she noted.

Polley said, to date, the House has not had to cut back on what it gives people because it is well stocked. If they cannot replenish what they give out, moving forward it could become a problem

“We don’t want it to come to that point,” she said. “We gladly and graciously accept all food donations, anything during business hours.”

Polley said everyone in need is welcome to the food pantry. People can receive the basics every 60 days there. There are no income or residency requirements.

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