‘Poorest of the poor’: Center sends out 4,000 bags of food monthly

May 30, 2023

Vacationers headed to the beach for a week or two of rest and relaxation probably won’t consider Rehoboth Beach Community Resource Center an attraction or destination. The services provided by this non-profit agency – food, emergency assistance, a baby pantry, a job center – are reserved for area residents who are “the poorest of the poor,” according to Executive Director Jo Allegro-Smith.

Four thousand bags of food – that’s 4,000 – go out from this center every month!

Because this center relies on a committed team of volunteers to bolster the small staff, and since the director’s office is adjacent to client service areas, this director has her fingers on the pulse of client needs. She’s been at the helm for a decade, observing like the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted demand for services.

“I was worried at the beginning of the pandemic. March 2020. We’re in a resort community, right, and that’s really the start of the season here. We were on lockdown, and then there were all the supply chain issues. Our volunteers came in when they didn’t have to, and it was very emotional. People who had never asked for help came to us looking for food, and they were embarrassed. They had their heads down, and some were in tears. It’s a small town in many ways, and our volunteers were able to remove the stigma. We didn’t miss a beat,” she said.

“The need has increased, and it’s been one thing after another. There’s the economic volatility, the SNAP cuts, the need is increasing. But what a phenomenal gift to the Community Resource Center to connect to the Food Bank. The Food Bank allows us to supplement our resources and allows to expand our outreach,” Allegro-Smith explains.

The center is also a food rescue operation; food donations are picked up for local grocery stores and distributed to families in need. Who are those families and where are they living in this resort community? While some people are local, maybe living in shelters, others come from Long Neck and Millsboro. “There are pockets of profound poverty, the poorest of the poor,” said Allegro-Smith, a self-proclaimed ‘statistical geek.’ She relies a tool to explain local poverty: calculated annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), its known as AMI or area median income. The 2022 AMI  for Rehoboth Beach was $89,000;  Allegro-Smith says the annual income for families of four served by the Center are less than 30 percent of the AMI, about $25,200.

“We see a continuum of ages, all ages, from infants to seniors. But it’s concerning, we see a growing segment of older adults. It’s true what you hear on TV, people choosing medicine or food. They may be taking half their medicine to stretch it out. They are just trying to make ends meet because they are paying more but getting less,” she said.

“Scarcity has a significant impact. The working poor – it’s a reality. Families can’t make ends meet. We are so grateful for our partnership with the Food Bank. We serve as a conduit; it’s a very meaningful collaboration.”

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