DECATUR — It’s an annual trend for food pantries and soup kitchens — this time of year often marks the slowest months. There are some theories for the lower numbers, including bad weather and people receiving federal tax returns.
Tax refunds can provide spending money for people to use on food, said Jerry Pelz, executive director of the Northeast Community Fund in Decatur, which provides baskets of food to low-income residents.
“February is probably the slowest month that we have in people accessing our food pantry, and I think that is because people have gotten tax returns,” Pelz said. “I think there a lot more people that have cash available to them in this month than in a lot of other months.”
This is a positive thing for Pelz, who said a drop in clients shows that people are responsible about using the service.
“If people don't need our services, they don’t come and use them, which is the way that it should be,” he said.
The Rev. Stacey Brohard, executive director of Good Samaritan Inn in Decatur, said January and February also are frequently their slow months. He said the organization does not track when people get tax refunds, but he does see a correlation between the weather and the number of clients.
In cold weather, some people may be less likely to come because they must walk or take the bus, which can be harder in the winter.
Pelz said the February decrease is a yearly trend. Typically, around 300 fewer families are served throughout the month. Many customers cite their tax refund as the reason they don’t need the food for the month, Pelz said. Clients explain that they only use the fund when it is necessary or try to save it for if hard times hit their families, he said.
The median household income, with benefits, in the U.S. is $50,000 annually. The average tax return is around $3,000, according to the Internal Revenue Service. For lower-income taxpayers, they would receive smaller tax returns, but it would still be enough to buy food, Pelz said.
People can get more information about federal taxes or check the status of their tax refund online at irs.gov.
“I think it is encouraging to know that people don’t see us as an every month alternative but see us as filling the gaps they have,” he said. “Unfortunately, for some people that is an every month situation, for families that would not receive a tax refund that situation wouldn’t change for them.”
This story has been corrected to use the pronoun "he" in reference to the Rev. Stacey Brohard.