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There's no shortage of hungry families

The free food goes quickly when there are more than enough people around who need it. Donations to bolster supplies, however, don't come in fast enough, say the operators of the Food Emergency and Services Team (FEAST) of Palm Harbor.

Also known as the Food Pantry, FEAST operates at the Palm Harbor United Methodist Church and gives food to people who cannot afford to feed themselves and their families. The Pantry serves Pinellas County north of Curlew Road.

During the past two months, an increasing demand for food has squeezed the organization, said Gloria Bruckart, FEAST board member.

"We've had new people coming in daily," she said. "I can't say in droves, but enough to say that there's a change coming about."

"The economy," said Sheylla DeCarvalho, manager of Food Pantry. "What else could it be?"

An increase at this time of year hurts organizations such as the Food Pantry, which relies heavily on donations, Bruckart said.

"Our finances are going down instead of up," Bruckart said. "The period of giving comes between Thanksgiving and Christmas."

Food Pantry splits its operation in half. It distributes food provided by the federal government for people who meet state standards. And the pantry gives away food through its own emergency program to people who might not get other help.

It is the emergency program, which gave food to 6,184 people last year, that needs help, DeCarvalho said. In April, the Pantry gave food to 170 families, a total of 456 people, according Pantry records. In May, the number of families rose to 228, a total of 618 people.

Most of the Pantry's donations come from local churches, either in dollars or in food, DeCarvalho said. For the past two years, some of the emergency program's financing has come in an annual $7,000 federal grant, but that is not enough, said DeCarvalho and Bruckart. The Pantry spends about $1,200 on groceries each month.

If donations continue to decline, the Pantry will have to cut back on the food it gives away, Bruckart said.

The Pantry already has done that, said Barbara Ward, 20, of Tarpon Springs, who is unemployed and has gone to the Pantry four times.

"You can tell," said Ms. Ward, carrying a bag of groceries for a family of three. "I used to get three or four bags."

Ms. Ward said her husband's income is too high for the family to get food stamps, but not enough to feed the family.

Some of the Pantry's 20 volunteers pack bags of groceries for families of different sizes. But most of the people who come in are single mothers, said Helen Martin, a volunteer and FEAST board member.

Families typically get items such as chicken, cold cuts, canned tuna, soup and vegetables, dry cereal, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese mix, peanut butter and bread.

Since 1984 the Pantry has operated at Georgia Avenue and 12th Street, but the organization is outgrowing the space provided by the church, and its officials are hoping to find another location in Old Downtown, DeCarvalho said.

For information about the Food Pantry, write FEAST, Inc., P.O. Box 2154, Palm Harbor 34682 or call 789-5275.