BLOOMINGTON - More people are looking to the Home Sweet Home and Safe Harbor homeless shelters to fill their empty stomachs this summer.
The increase of nearly 300 meals in the last week has all but left the cupboards bare at Home Sweet Home Ministries' Billy Shelper Center, said food service manager Carol Ann Carara.
"We've been relying on reserves of meat we built up over the holidays from donations," she said. "Now I've only got one box of frozen chicken left and we're seeing more people than we've served in a long time."
The shelter served 1,523 meals in the last six days. It served 1,250 for the same time last month.
Spokeswoman Sabrina Burkiewicz said June numbers already have surpassed the number of meals served in April and May.
Burkiewicz said many of the people taking advantage of the free meals Home Sweet Home offers are neighbors of the facility at 303 E. Oakland Ave.
"I think it's getting back to people living on the brink," she said. "They're having to deal with increases in gas, utilities and air conditioning."
Children also are out of school so parents have more mouths to feed during the day, she said.
Kim Anderson, development director for The Salvation Army, which runs Safe Harbor, said more nonresidents also have been going to Safe Harbor for its evening meal.
"About 35 to 40 percent coming for supper are not residents of Safe Harbor," she said.
The shelter also has a higher than typical number of residents for the summer months. An average of 35 men have been staying at Safe Harbor each night.
Home Sweet Home averages 60 people each night, Burkiewicz said. About 17 of those are children.
While the number of people served at the agency is up, donations are down, she said. That combined with higher gasoline and utilities costs have put a strain on the agency's budget.
Burkiewicz said three people have been laid off - the director of development, a vocational training director and a caseworker.
The vocational training program developed by a group from Leadership McLean County also had to be put on hold, she said. The program was designed to help residents in Home Sweet Home's Threshold program with workplace skills.
Burkiewicz said Home Sweet Home received a grant from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for the program but had to match the funding. The amount of the grant was decreased, she said, forcing Home Sweet Home to come up with more money.
"We couldn't keep up," she said.
Burkiewicz now hopes business leaders throughout the community will volunteer to help with the program.
The agency also had to shelve a plan to renovate and build an addition so the Threshold program could be expanded. The program helps homeless people become independent again.
Home Sweet Home was hoping to receive $400,000 for that project from two federal earmarks. That funding still has not become available.
How to help
Home Sweet Home Ministries officials say they need:
Frozen beef, chicken and pork
Donations can be dropped of at the Billy Shelper Center, 303 E. Oakland Ave., 24 hours a day, seven days a week.