NH food pantries expect rise in demand as SNAP benefits drop
New Hampshire food pantries are expecting an increase in demand, as a pandemic-era boost to SNAP benefits expires in March.
Federal lawmakers approved the temporary increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — sometimes known as food stamps — early in the COVID-19 pandemic. But legislation passed late last year requires benefits to return to normal levels this month.
Learn more about the changes in SNAP benefits and resources available to help.
Sarah Harpster, who runs the Community Kitchen in Keene, said those and other expanded public benefits helped many people make ends meet during the pandemic. Without that extra assistance, she expects more people will eventually have to rely on food pantries like hers.
“At first, people go to their first line of defense — their savings, their friends, you know, cut back on something. They use up the food they've got,” she said. “And after a while, they end up turning to pantries and looking to us to fill the need.”
Jim Hochberg leads the CityHope pantry at CenterPoint Church in Concord. He said demand dropped during the pandemic, with some of the pantry’s regulars coming around less because the increased public benefits covered their needs. He estimated the pantry went from serving 70 to 75 families at a time before COVID-19 to around 30 at one point during the pandemic.
“Now that the extra SNAP benefits are ending, we've been talking with people the past month or so, and they're like, ‘Yeah, expect to see me more,’” Hochberg said.
Hochberg and Harpster said their pantries are well-stocked to deal with any rise in demand.
The New Hampshire Food Bank, which distributes food to more than 400 pantries and other organizations throughout the state, is ready to step in with extra supplies and support if needed, said Director of Development Nancy Mellitt.
“With food costs what they are right now and anticipated to increase, I think it could have an impact on those individuals who are food insecure,” Mellitt said of the reduction in SNAP benefits.
The food bank has also been using social media to raise awareness about the coming benefits changes and helpful resources — like incentives that double the purchasing power of SNAP dollars when buying produce at participating stores and farmers’ markets.
A map of pantries, soup kitchens and other food-assistance agencies across New Hampshire can be found on the New Hampshire Food Bank’s web site. Additional resources are available from the Department of Health and Human Services.