For most of last year, the little food pantry was feeding an average of 225 families a week. Then, starting in November, more families started showing up. That's when Congress failed to extenda recession-era bump in food stamps, which cut $11 less from each recipient's monthly grocery money.
The pantry is now feeding 300 families. And things could get worse.
This week, Congress is poised to pass a farm bill that would again trim food stamp benefits for 850,000 beneficiaries in 16 states and the District of Columbia.
It's a tough situation for Loaves & Fishes, which has been juggling between canned food and a dwindling supply of fruits and vegetables for the families.
"We had to get creative. . . we dipped into our reserves for next week," said Rev. Alex Dyer, director of the food pantry. "Our need has increased dramatically, but we're now describing it as the 'new' normal."
Some received more food stamps, even though they may have received as little as $1 for heating.Lawmakers say they are closing that loophole.
The cuts aren't small. It could slice an average of $90 a month from their food stamps allotment. Those affected include people living in states along the North East coast (north of Maryland) as well as Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, Washington and California.
Food banks in states facing the cut, like Loaves & Fishes, say they're bracing for the worst.
"It's frustrating to see children and hardworking people go through our lines, and a lot of them are here for the first time," said Dyer. "You can talk all you want in Washington about this and that, but when you're in the trenches, it's just a different emotion."
New York food stamp recipients are among the worst hit, with some 300,000 facing cuts, according to congressional data.
Already, New York City food pantries and soup kitchens have been under tremendous strain, with 85% of them reporting an increase in hungry families in November compared to the same period a year earlier, according to a recent survey by the major food supplier for the area, the Food Bank For New York City.
More people are in need now than when Hurricane Sandy hit, said Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of the nonprofit which supplies 1,000 food pantries and soup kitchens.
The situation is so severe, the survey found, that half of New York City's food pantries said they've run out of food at some point, and a quarter have had to turn away hungry families.
"Demand is higher now with this man-made disaster, than it was during the national disaster, it's very upsetting," Purvis said. "We're sad today," she added, about the news that the House had passed the farm bill, portending deeper cuts in New York City.