Photograph by Steven Higgs

Community Kitchen Executive Director Vicki Pierce, left, and her staff at expect to see continuing increases in demand for free meals as the economy worsens.

If America’s economic decline continues, local nonprofits that serve those in poverty anticipate larger demands for their services.

Organizations such as Backstreet Missions, Shalom Community Center, Stepping Stones and Community Kitchen expect more people will seek their help in the months ahead.

Community Kitchen is devoted to eliminating hunger in Monroe County by providing meals to the hungry. The agency saw a slight increase in October and expects the numbers to continue to rise.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see a 10 percent rise in numbers over the next six months,” said Vicki Pierce, Community Kitchen’s executive director.

Last year, Community Kitchen served a record number of meals -- 152,516.

The Shalom Community Center provides services and support to the homeless and those in poverty. Officials there also saw a significant increase in demand over this past year.

"Cutting programs is simply not an option when so many people are finding themselves in need."
- Whitney Gent, Shalom Community Center

According to Director of Development Whitney Gent, Shalom officials have seen a 20 percent increase in the number of meals served so far this year, compared to the same amount of time last year. They also saw a 58 percent increase demand for the Templeton-Shalom Family Market, which distributes food and essential items to those in need every Friday.

But she said history shows that Americans do not let economic woes keep them from helping those in need. Several recent studies indicate that, historically speaking, charitable donations to social service agencies are not adversely affected by declining economic conditions, Gent said in an e-mail.

“Our hope is that these difficult economic circumstances will get people thinking more about issues of poverty, and we hope that that concern will translate into continued support of agencies like ours,” she wrote.

If a decrease in charitable donations does occur, Gent said Shalom is committed to finding a way to continue.

“Cutting programs is simply not an option when so many people are finding themselves in need,” she said.

Backstreet Missions, a faith-based agency dedicated to serving the homeless and those in poverty, has seen an increase in the number of people seeking food at their soup kitchen, food pantry and assistance shop, and thrift store, said Backstreet co-founder and President Linda Kelley.

"Bloomington is a very giving, caring community and I believe that folks will continue to support us as best they can through this time."
- Vicki Pierce, Community Kitchen

Last year the agency served near 21,000 meals at the soup kitchen and helped 654 families receive items from the food pantry and assistance shop.

Kelley reiterated Gent’s feelings. Backstreet will not give up on people in need. And because Backstreet is faith-based, the belief is that God will provide.

Although Stepping Stones, a nonprofit that provides services to youth between the ages of 16 and 20, has not seen an increase in the number of youth seeking help or a decline in donations yet, officials there will keep the economic condition in mind.

“As we continue to revise our 2009 budget, we are budgeting less for contributed support than the first draft of the budget,” Warren Wade, assistant director at Stepping Stones, said in an e-mail. “The anticipated loss in contributed support also requires a reduction in program expenses.”

Each organization, sometimes in collaboration with each other, holds fundraisers and events that community members can participate in to contribute to the fight against poverty.

“Bloomington is a very giving, caring community and I believe that folks will continue to support us as best they can through this time,” Pierce says.

Audree Notoras can be reached at .