Wise Area Relief Mission (WARM) in Decatur averages about 825 families per month. In August, that number grew to 950.
“In the last six to eight months, we’ve had an increase of people we’ve helped whose unemployment benefits have expired, and they haven’t been able to find a job,” said Rene’ Ashmore, WARM director. “There are a lot of single parents locally. Many we see are working every day, trying to live on minimum wage, and they can’t earn enough to provide for everything.”
Her observations are in line with data released by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. While approximately 8 percent of families in Wise County live below the poverty level, single mothers with young children are disproportionately affected. More than 38 percent of single mothers with children less than 5 years old in Wise County lived in poverty over the past 12 months. When you look at married couples with children less than 5, the numbers drop to 4 percent.
And while approximately 10 percent of all people in Wise County have lived below the poverty level in the past year, 17.4 percent of children under 5 have done so.
Organizations like WARM in Decatur and New Hope Baptist Church in Boyd do a lot to help financially struggling families. They are the two largest food pantries in Wise County. Both recently received $2,500 grants from the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth to purchase new refrigerators. It’s part of an effort to provide more fresh produce to an increasing number of people in need.
“Feeding America is really promoting more fresh products,” Ashmore said. “They’re trying to get more healthy, fresh food out to people.”
Much of what food pantries stock is non-perishable, processed foods. They hope the addition of the refrigerator will create more capacity for fresh fruits and vegetables they can give out to clients. WARM only has two refrigerators now – not much capacity for 900-plus families per month.
“We have a lot of freezer space, just not much refrigerator space,” Ashmore said.
But there is still the problem of acquiring enough fresh produce in the first place.
“Fresh vegetables have been harder for us to get,” Ashmore said. “What produce we do get comes mainly from the Tarrant Area Food Bank.”
But she added that donations generally increase this time of year with school food drives and such.
“People in Wise County have always been great to us,” she said. “Anything we’ve ever needed, the people in this county come through.”
If the numbers of people living in poverty continue to grow, the local pantries will need more help than ever from people in the county.