Every month, hundreds of people in Genesee County rely on free food programs to help them meet their nutritional needs, and the number of people needing assistance has only grown, according to local food bank officials.
Even as the need goes up, said Laura Sugarwala, nutrition resource manager for Foodlink, funding is in danger of being cut.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget cuts funding for the main source of revenue for these programs by 13 percent and puts the budget allocation into the Maternal Child Health and Nutrition Grant program.
The change would essentially end the 30-year-old Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP).
Agencies such as Foodlink would compete with other programs for a single pot of money. Also, the change would delay the ability of Foodlink and the organizations they serve to budget in advance of providing services, at least to the same degree they can now.
Foodlink helps channel HPNAP funding to four local agencies that feed the hungry -- Community Action of Orleans & Genesee, the Salvation Army, Steven's Table and City Church.
"I see a lot of hungry people, a lot of children this could potentially effect," said Lisa Whittmeyer, emergency service coordinator for Community Action.
Whittmeyer and Sugarwala hope that area residents will stop by the Community Action office at 5073 Clinton St. Road, Batavia, to sign a petition, sign the online petition at FoodlinkNY.org, or write to Assemblyman Steve Hawley and Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer and express support for retaining funding as is for HPNAP.
The proposed cuts would mean a cut in services and the amount of food available, both Whittmeyer and Sugarwala said.
Sugarwala said it will be much harder to provide properly nutritious food to clients of the local agencies if funding is cut.
"In my role as nutrition resource manager, I would have to make decisions, without funding, about what we wouldn't be able to carry in the way of nutritious products, items like low-grain and low-sodium products -- all the things that are important for health," Sugarwala said.
The people who rely on food bank programs are not necessarily the same people who get food stamps or receive other government assistance.
Those programs are means tested and sometimes people reach circumstances in their life where they simply don't have enough money for food, even though they don't qualify for other government assistance programs.
For any of the food banks, anybody who walks through the door and says they're hungry gets a meal.
"People in our service area come from a variety of backgrounds," Sugarwala said. "We don't know everything that's going on at home."
Foodlink, which receives $2 million in annual funding from HPNAP, serves a 10-county region in WNY. Four years ago, a survey found 125,000 people in that service area that don't always get enough to eat.
Since then, food banks have seen a 30-percent increase in the number of meals served. Foodlink is preparing another survey because officials suspect the number of people facing food emergencies regularly may have as much as doubled.