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County food aid growing rapidly

By By Lisa Tindell
For many people in Escambia County, a tough economy and high jobless rate mean their plates — and their bellies — are emptier.
But government agencies and non-profit organizations offer strategies for families caught in tough times — even as that number of families appears to be growing.
Lynn Barnes, director of the Escambia County Department of Human Resources, said the number of families applying for food assistance is growing at a rapid pace.
The latest statistics have shown an increase of more than 300 needing food assistance since July.
Due to tough economic conditions, Barnes said more and more families are qualifying for food stamp assistance.
For those who find themselves in an emergency situation, a new program gives those in need immediate relief.
Barnes said there are certain conditions that must be in place before a case can be expedited for immediate consideration.
That change in the way some cases are handled has been the result of a significant increase in benefits paid quickly, Barnes said.
Barnes said the number of cases being handled by workers in the office is opening doors for several people.
Vicki Fussell, director of Hope Place Family Resource Center, agreed that food assistance can be a help when families find themselves in a tough situation.
Barnes compared applying for food stamp assistance to applying for unemployment compensation.
Fussell agreed that food stamps can be a way to help parents provide security for their children when they are in need.
Being in a tough economic spot can create stress in the home, but Hope Place offers classes that teach strategies for dealing with such crises. Classes currently available include those that teach communication skills for families, money management skills and family development.
The classes are designed to empower families even in tough times.
For example, Fussell said, “the money management plan is not about stretching your dollar. It is about getting the maximum for your dollar.”
To find out more about food stamp assistance in Escambia County, contact the Department of Human Resources at 867-2000 or stop by their offices on Evergreen Avenue. Additional information and worksheets concerning eligibility requirements in the application process may also be found at www.fns.usda.gov.
For information about Hope Place and the classes it provides, call 867-4686.
Kerry Whipple Bean contributed to this story.