Huntingdon County United Way has noted an increase in the ALICE population, and this increase has been felt in several food pantries and backpack programs across the county.

Kathy Armillei, executive director of Huntingdon County United Way, said she’s seen a definite increase in the ALICE population has seen a definite increase recently.

“ALICE, meaning ‘Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,’ refers to individuals who go to work but still struggle to make ends meet,” Armillei said. “They make too much money to qualify for assistance, so they are left to fend for themselves.”

Statistics from the month of June show that 30% of Huntingdon County households are considered ALICE, while 12% are in poverty. In addition, 41% of households belonging to those 65 and over are considered ALICE.

The increase has been felt in many charity programs across the county.

Auxiliary Captain Philip Bender of the Huntingdon County Salvation Army noted the increase when discussing clients served per week.

“We have seen an increase,” said Bender. “We’ve had anywhere from 14 to 25 clients a week, which means 70 to 100 people a month. This is a significant increase from what we’ve seen in the past.”

Bender maintained that, while client confidentiality keeps him from knowing where clients’ income comes from, many of their clients do receive an income.

Similar situations have been seen in other food pantries, including those in Huntingdon, southern Huntingdon and Mount Union.

“It’s gone up a little bit,” said Huntingdon Food Pantry administrator Jean Feagley. “We’ve seen anywhere from 148 to 175 people come in in the last month. Some are unemployed, but some moved to the area to find work.”

“Depending on the month, we serve anywhere from 60 to 80 families,” said Southern Huntingdon Food Pantry administrator Jim Hullihen. “I don’t believe that we have had an increase in the number of working families, but I would say that probably about half of our clients are working families. That may be a generous estimate.”

“We’ve served more people than in previous years. A lot of new people have arrived to the area for employment and have discovered the food pantry,” Mount Union Food Pantry administrator Brian Myfelt said. “Newer families living in subsidized housing have been coming in frequently.”

Those in charge of backpack programs in local school districts have seen an increase, as well.

Linda Howe, founder of Backpack Blessings, the backpack program at Juniata Valley Elementary School, confirmed that, while the number of children they assist is often in flux, a vast majority of them come from working families.

“We only serve around 20 children whose families do not work,” Howe said. “All of the other children, about 130, come from working-class families, many of them farmers.”

An identical situation has been observed by Elana Clapper, coordinator of the Standing Stone Elementary CARE Team.

“Absolutely, there has been a major increase,” she said. “The number of students we’ve helped has steadily increased since I joined the program six years ago. In that time, we’ve gone from helping five students to 80 each week. I never would have imagined it’d get this bad. And it’s not just us. Backpack programs are a growing trend everywhere.”

Armillei discussed future plans to help ALICE people across Huntingdon County.

“Huntingdon County United Way is working on ways to help the population,” Armillei said. “We have no ideas yet, but we hope to workshop with other state United Ways. This can lead to talks with legislators, the implementation of new programs in the community and partnerships with community members, schools and agencies already dedicated to helping out.”

Armillei mentioned, too, that Huntingdon County United Way offers mini-grants to those seeking funding for programs/projects meant to serve county residents in need.

The application can be accessed on huntingdonuw.org.

The deadline for this round of applications is Dec. 31.

Joshua can be reached at jblattenberger@huntingdondailynews.com.

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