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The Working Poor

November 27, 2012, 10:00 PM by Shawn Neisteadt

The Working Poor

When the recession hit South Dakota, not every home felt its affect.  But statistics show another story.

From 2009 to 2010 the average personal income per person dropped nearly $2,000. It's no coincidence that at that same time, the number of people in Sioux Falls relying on the Banquet for a meal spiked.

Despite improvements in the economy, the numbers at The Banquet remain steady and there's a growing segment of the population turning to help.

It's 7 a.m. and The Banquet in downtown Sioux Falls is filling up fast.  All of these guests are simply looking for a hot meal to start their day. 

"Sometimes I come here in the evenings as well, it depends on what time I get off work.  This is where I get my milk for the week because it's too expensive to buy," Laurie Kirby said.

Kirby's story isn't all that unique.  She, like a growing number of those who visit The Banquet on a regular basis, is employed. Kirby opened up and spoke candidly about her situation.

"It's very important because I'm working, but making a $1.50 less an hour than I did a year ago and my food stamps are $16 per month.  If I didn't have this, I wouldn't be eating," Kirby said.

Kirby says she doesn't squabble away her wages; instead, they go to paying her other expenses.

"Between gasoline for my car and the price of everything, rent, utilities, I just can't afford to feed myself," Kirby said.

"We're seeing more people now who do have jobs; they're getting up and going to work every single day. They're paying their rent.  They're paying their day care.  They just can't afford to put a meal on the table right now.  So they're coming to eat with us," Banquet Executive Director Tamera Jerke-Liesinger said.

The Banquet serves breakfast three days a week, lunch on Saturdays and dinner five evenings each week.  Added together, The Banquet served 145,000 last year alone.

While the overall number of meals at the banquet may be impressive, consider this: for breakfast they serve an average of 200 to 225 people.  For dinner time, that number grows to 425 to 550 people per night.  

"We ask a lot of our volunteers.  We ask them not only to come and prepare and serve a meal, but we also ask them to pay for the cost of that meal.  So the volunteer group is assuming a great responsibility.  What we are seeing now is some of our volunteer groups are struggling too to come up with the money it takes to serve the number of people that we're serving," Jerke-Liesinger said. 

So as The Banquet feels the same pinch at the grocery store as the people it serves, it's adjusted menus to serve as many people as possible.

For those such as Kirby, they'll always be thankful for what they have and will help out any way they can.

"We volunteer if we're needed.  If they're short on help we'll eat and get up and help.  It's just a wonderful place," Kirby said.

The need at The Banquet typically increases for the holiday season, and they have special programs as well.  That includes Project Inside Out to provide new socks and underwear to those in need.  Visit The Banquet's website to find out how to help.

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