An effort to offer more help to needy residents has left the Reynoldsburg Helping Hands food pantry shelves nearly bare at one of its busiest times.

An effort to offer more help to needy residents has left the Reynoldsburg Helping Hands food pantry shelves nearly bare at one of its busiest times.

"With the downturn of the economy in recent months, we decided in February to feed our clients more often," Helping Hands chairperson Janet Munjas said. "While we feel this was necessary, it has taken its toll on our food supply and our shelves of food are very low and we are buying more food than ever before."

Munjas said some of the items the pantry desperately needs include cereal, spaghetti sauce, spaghetti noodles, canned fruit, corn, mixed vegetables, peas, baked beans, canned pasta and chili, tuna and personal Items such as soap, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and deodorant.

"We're feeding people more often, every three months instead of every six months and we give more than probably any other pantry in central Ohio now," Munjas said.

Helping Hands is open between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and serves only people living in the Reynoldsburg school district.

Munjas said records are kept of clients who that come in to receive help, but since the demand has increased, the pantry is running out of food more rapidly.

"We've never been this low on food," she said. "Part of the reason is we had no carryover after the donations during last Christmas. We had not much in storage," Munjas said.

"We hoped to have enough in storage to carry us through the summer, but now, instead of shopping for food every three or so weeks, we now do it every week," she said.

Munjas said Reynoldsburg Helping Hands started seeing an increase in requests for aid a couple of years ago. In January 2009, the pantry served 42 families. In January 2010, that increased to about 58 families, and in January this year, Helping Hands aided 99 families.

In addition to providing food, the pantry also helps families pay their utility bills, and in the fall, provides needy children with school supplies.

"We do kind of like a basic package of school supplies," Munjas said. "You just can't believe how excited the parents are to get that because otherwise, they have to go and pay a lot of money."

She said the pantry sends out letters to prospective donors in September. In addition for the need for food, the pantry can always use monetary contributions, she said.

From October until the end of December, Munjas said each Helping Hands client receives a $20 Kroger gift certificate on top of the other supplies provided, for a holiday meal.

"But right now, I'm more concerned with the amount of food on the shelves," Munjas said. "Last Wednesday, they were practically bare; I think we had enough to serve eight families.

"I'm worried now because we have to go through now until Christmas. Our schools will hold food drives, but right now, we don't have anything in the storage, nothing - maybe a case of green beans, but that's it," she said.

Munjas said the number of people out of work these days and the working poor concern her the most.

"Those people find jobs for a minimum wage or more. It's enough to keep them off welfare, but they can't get food stamps so they're coming to us," she said.

"When you consider the number of people out of work and the working poor, people who are trying - and man, we have plenty of them - they're not making enough to pay their rent, bills and utilities," she said.

Munjas said people can drop off donations between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at Helping Hands, 7356 E. Main St.

More information on how to donate is available by calling the pantry at (614) 868-9394.