The number of people using the homeless shelter has skyrocketed; food pantries are seeing larger caseloads every day; lines are long at area soup kitchens - and the spirit of giving that was so evident during the winter holiday season has to a large extent disappeared with the tree ornaments and candy canes.
Though the need is not desperate, those who run emergency services for the homeless and poverty-stricken are worried about a "crunch" in August if donations don't come in.The men's homeless shelter bulged with 130 men Tuesday night, and director Baron Wells said they expect to see 160 a night by the end of the month. The family shelter, which has room for about 20 families, has packed in 20-30 all summer, according to Maxine Greer, shelter director. The women's shelter and transitional housing have been full. But it's difficult to get an accurate count of the homeless in summer because many people sleep outside when the weather is warm.
Numbers are not quite as high at the Rescue Mission, but they're still significant, according to Bernie Larson, superintendent. The mission has averaged 42 men a night, and this week it served about 120 breakfasts, 130 lunches and 140 dinners every day.
"Even so," Larson said, "we've been hanging in about average" as far as donations. "There hasn't been a decrease in food."
"We've been hard-pressed all summer," Greer said. "Hopefully, we've reached a peak and will just stay steady. I think we have."
"What's happening is the summer rise in caseload," Glenn Bailey, Crossroads Urban Center, said. "Donations have been about standard for summer, but it's nothing like we get in the winter."
"It (giving) is really up for Thanksgiving and Christmas," Rita Inoway, Community Services Council, agreed. "If you walk into the food bank warehouse right now, it's pretty bare. The demand really goes up in summer, partly because of people who are passing through and need help." The warehouse stores food for 15 different pantries.
Persis Melehes, manager of the warehouse, said that normally enough food is donated during the winter food drives to carry supplies over the summer, although "by fall it gets pretty thin." This year, she has "held onto some of the federal emergency money" to help out. "We particularly need fresh fruits and vegetables," she said.
Bailey said the need for food, clothing, shelter and sundries is greater in summer because "people are on the move looking for opportunities. The shelter is way past capacity. And because the kids aren't in school, many of the parents have to provide lunch. I also think - and this is just a guess on my part - that people are spending their money to try to keep the utilities on because there's no moratorium and they can be shut off." (In winter months, utilities cannot disconnect low-income families who qualify for the program, but they can disconnect in summer, and then the families have to get them reconnected.)
Farmer Jack stores had eased the food situation a lot, Bailey said, because they donated their surplus food to the poor, "but when they shut down, that ended. Other stores haven't done that, and we rely very heavily on private donations of goods."
Among the items needed most are baby formula, diapers, protein foods like tuna and peanut butter, food that doesn't need to be cooked, noodles, baby food and other foods. Crossroads doesn't need bread and pastries right now, but it has facilities to freeze meat if anyone wants to donate it. The small, hand-operated can openers are also particularly welcome.
"We get a pretty good run of donations (to the men's shelter) from October through February," Wells told the Deseret News. "But after that, no. We got our first real summer donation Tuesday from an LDS youth group in Springville."
He said the shelter needs sundries like toothpaste, shampoo, razors, soap and toilet paper. "When you average 130 men a night, those items go really quick," he said. The women's and family shelters both need sundry items, too.
At St. Vincent De Paul Center, where a free lunch is served every day, the number has more than doubled during the past year. In June, 10,720 lunches were served. Wednesday, for example, they served 468. Of those, 84 were women and children, according to Kathy Maxey, center manager.
"We're lucky," she said, "because we have stores and organizations that donate food on a regular basis. We go in spurts a lot of times. Right now we have a real shortage of drinks, like fruit juices, Kool-Aid and concentrates. We always accept food. Canned goods are slacking off right now, and we need them. In winter people seem more concerned. We get lots of food then." Goods must be commercially canned; none of the pantries can accept or distribute home-canned goods.
St. Vincent is also in "dire need" of men's clothing and shoes, she said, especially steel-toed boots. The center has created a job pool to find full-time temporary work for the homeless to give them a chance to get out of the homeless cycle. "Often," Maxey said, "these guys have the skills but not the equipment."
"People are generally very generous," Greer said. "We are lucky because it (the family shelter) doesn't need much right now. In fact, we don't want a lot of things because we will be moving in October and don't want to have to haul extra things."
Inoway said the family shelter is probably in better shape because "the outpouring for families here has traditionally been great. During the holidays, people are incredibly generous. But some won't do it the rest of the year."
Anyone who wants to "bring a little Christmas in July" may want to call the organization it wants to donate to in advance, to see what's really needed, since it varies from kitchen to pantry and thrift store to shelter.