About three to four years ago, Teresa Quinzi-Willette began seeing a wave of new faces come to the door of the East Rochester Community Resource Center, where she serves as director.
Whereas the agency used to serve 18 to 22 families in the average month, now it serves 70 to 90 families, Quinzi-Willette said.
The story is repeated at many charities across the Diocese of Rochester, where officials report serving many who are seeking help for the very first time.
"We just keep trying to help the people that need it," Quinzi-Willette said. "I find the ratio of adults to children is going more to the adult side. There are more single people out of work, and they can’t find a job."
State and federal statistics show that the number of people in need locally continues to reach new heights. The number of food stamp recipients began increasing rapidly in mid-2007, for instance, and continued climbing ever since, according to statistics from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which coordinates New York’s Food Stamp program.
The beginning of the spike in food-stamp recipients correlates with the economic recession, which, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, began in December 2007 and lasted 18 months until June 2009. While the bureau says the economy since has shown signs of recovery, local poverty has not waned, and is rapidly increasing in the suburbs and in rural areas, according to Catholic Charities officials.
In Ontario County, for instance, the estimated poverty rate rose about 27 percent from 7.8 percent in 2009 to 9.9 percent in 2010.
"We are seeing more and more households with at least one of the adults in the home having earned income," said Ellen Wayne, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes. Wayne noted that many such adults are working full time at reduced incomes or have several part-time jobs.
In 2009, she noted, her agency helped 30 families who had housing crises and were in danger of becoming homeless. In 2010 the number of households in such crises rose to 90, and this year, her agency has already helped 120 households on the verge of becoming homeless.
"We are seeing these numbers go through the roof," Wayne said.
Although the need is growing, she noted that this year government assistance is not available , as it was in the form of economic stimulus and foreclosure-avoidance programs in 2009 and 2010.
Cuts to federal food stamp funding also have been proposed in some recent budget negotiations, Wayne said. This comes as the number of people on food stamps reaches new heights.
This July, 3.04 million people in New York received food stamps totaling $451 million. By comparison, in January of 2001, about 1.32 million people received food stamps totaling $111 million.
According to the organization Fighting Poverty with Faith, the national average food stamp allotment is $31.50, which is about $4.50 per day or $1.50 per meal. In New York, food stamp allocations vary by the size of the family, the family’s monthly gross income, and whether a recipient is elderly or disabled. An elderly individual can have income of up to $21,660 and qualify for food stamps. A family of four can earn up to $28,668.
In the past, Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes would go to food pantries to conduct outreach programs about food stamps, but this year the agency also has visited business and job fairs to spread the word, Wayne said.
Her agency also is seeing unprecedented demand at its community lunch program, which now draws more than 100 people a day, she said, up from 50 to 70 people a day in the past. Wayne noted that her agency has been forced to cut staff in order to deal with the spike in demand and maintain the assistance that it gives recipients.
Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau also show that poverty is continuing to hit families with young children at a disproportionate rate. More than a quarter of children under 5 years old lived below the poverty line in 2010 in Chemung County, Livingston County, Monroe County and Steuben County, according to census data.
"The farther you get away from Monroe County, the deeper the poverty," said Ruth Putnam Marchetti, Catholic Charities’ justice-and-peace coordinator for Wayne and the Finger Lakes.
She noted that those coping with suburban and rural poverty often have difficulty getting transportation to get services, or to employment.
"Services are not as easily accessed, especially if you don’t have a car or reliable transportation," Marchetti said. "Multiply that many times over for rural poverty. It’s very isolating."