CLEARWATER — Deborah Dunn's life changed dramatically Saturday.
The 58-year-old Clearwater woman had been enjoying her Mustang GT convertible and taking two cruises a year.
Now, she's looking for a minivan and trying to feed six extra mouths.
"I just took custody of my six grandchildren," said Dunn, a mental health technician at Morton Plant Hospital. "I applied for food stamps, but they haven't come through yet. Without this, I would be in big trouble."
She was getting food Monday afternoon at the Religious Community Services Food Bank at 700 Druid Road. Dunn is among an increasing number of residents who are turning to the food pantry, which in turn is in danger of running out of food.
"Our donations are doing rather well," said Kathi Trautwein, RCS director. "But with the economy, we are seeing people who never in their life thought they would have to go to a place like a food bank."
Trautwein said in the past few months, the Food Pantry has serviced 20 first-time families a day. RCS usually averages about 112 families a day but last week that number rose to 152.
"I've seen more tears than I've ever seen since being here," Trautwein said. "They are tears of frustration and gratitude."
RCS is serving 35 percent more people than last year but will likely give the same $2.1 million worth of food for the same period, food bank officials said. The organization is serving 100 percent more people than it did two years ago.
"Right now, the biggest problem is having enough food for all the people coming to us," said Duggan Cooley, RCS president. "We are right at the cusp of meeting the demand. We are having to give people a little less than we did."
RCS got a little reprieve Monday. The organization received $12,500 from the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, which is part of the federal government's stimulus package. But that money will purchase only enough food for about a week, Trautwein said.
At one time, the metal bins and shelves in the RCS warehouse were overflowing with cans of spaghetti sauce, noodles, canned fruits and vegetables, and jars of peanut butter. Now, workers are asking if they should put one can of soup in a bag instead of the usual two.
With the RCS Food Bank, no one is turned down. A family is given enough food to last three to four days. The amount is determined by the size of the family.
The Food Bank has been providing food to the Pinellas County's needy for about 27 years.
James Whitlatch, 47, of Dunedin is one of those people.
"Every little bit helps," he said as he loaded his car with groceries. "With the economy the way it is, RCS is very important."
Dunn, who works third shift at the hospital, is one of those who never imagined she would have to come to a food pantry for help. But her grandchildren, ranging in ages from 1 to 13, had been separated in Tennessee foster homes. When she heard they were up for adoption, Dunn applied for custody.
She brought them back to Clearwater on Saturday.
"I called 211 for help and they told me about this place," Dunn said as she loaded food into the Mustang while several of the children climbed into the convertible. "I called this morning. The cupboards are bare."
In the bags of groceries is a chocolate frosted birthday cake. Two of the children have birthdays this month.
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.