Clinton food pantries serve more first-time recipients in sluggish economy

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CLINTON, Iowa -- As once-reliable and good-paying factory jobs decrease in Clinton, demand for social services continues to increase.

That's straining the city's two food pantries, which are serving more first-time recipients.

Rodney Witherspoon, 59, faces that growing dilemma in Clinton on April 4, 2017.

"Times are hard," he said.  "We ran a little short on groceries."

Witherspoon, an Army veteran, is struggling to support a family of four on part-time wages.

"It's tight," he continued.  "Everything's going out, and nothing's coming in -- jobs and money."

Reasons for a dramatic uptick at Information, Referral and Assistance Services in Clinton, which operates the food pantries.

In 2015, Clinton pantries served 5,986 clients.  In 2016, that figure jumped to 7,271. So far, 2017 continues to reflect the higher demand.

"A lot of our families are working," said Executive Director Regan Michaelsen.  "They really are trying to make ends meet, but the income that they're bringing in does not match the cost of living at this point."

Demand for food increased so much at Associate Benevolent Society that the Salvation Army stepped up to offer more services just next door.

Sometimes, even that's not enough.

"Lately, we haven't been getting any milk," said Lt. Stephanie Hartley, Salvation Army. "We rarely get any milk at all."

That's why Jamie Smith is filling a box for Witherspoon on Tuesday.  The monthly ration is trying to balance a tough economy.

"A lot of people have come in and said, 'I've always given to United Way, but now I need the help,'" said Paula Mallory, executive director of the Associate Benevolent Society.

It gets even busier during holidays.  The society will distribute nearly 200 Easter baskets.  Many of them will be going to first-time recipients.

For Rodney Witherspoon, the food is just a Band-Aid while his community searches for long-term solutions.

"If they can get jobs back here, that will increase the economy here," he concluded.

The food pantries depend on donations and United Way support to exist.

To make a cash or food donation, contact Information, Referral and Assistance Services at (563) 243-5818, or visit their website here.

It's at: 415 South 3rd Street; Clinton, IA 52732.

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