In Mecklenburg County, the number of families who need help putting food on the table has decreased dramatically this year. That's according to Loaves and Fishes, which operates 20 food pantries in Mecklenburg County.
At the Loaves and Fishes food pantry near Statesville Avenue this week, families filled up carts with grains, beans, canned fruits and vegetables, and - with the loudest clang - a large turkey.
Executive Director Beverly Howard says the pantries are on pace to hit a major milestone. And this year, for a change, it's a good thing.
"We're delighted that the need has gone back to pre-recession numbers," she says. "For four years after 2008, we saw a double-digit percentage increase every year."
Howard says the need peaked in 2012, when Loaves and Fishes fed nearly 127,000 people in Mecklenburg County. Last year, the pantries fed about 105,000. This year, Howard says they're on pace to feed 80,000.
Howard says her clients are often the last ones to benefit from an economic recovery. After all, need at the food pantries peaked two years after North Carolina's unemployment rate began improving. She says many clients are finding jobs now, although some are part-time without benefits.
"What we're noticing on the other side is an increasing number of our clients are disabled," she says. "We did our survey in October and found that 25 percent of our clients are disabled, so the unemployment numbers aren't going to affect them."
That's because people on disability are not counted as part of the labor force.
Howard says the week of Thanksgiving is Loaves and Fishes' busiest of the year.