The St. James Public Schools Federal Credit Union donated $600 to the Watonwan County Food Shelf Tuesday, and Food Shelf Manager Deb Schmillen said, “When (people) make a donation like this, we can really make it stretch.” While the Food Shelf always appreciates food donations, Schmillen said monetary contributions are usually more efficient. “We watch the sales, so we can make $10 stretch further than if someone just bought $10 worth of food,” she said. While the holiday season is the time of year when food pantries receive the most donations, recent cuts in SNAP--the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program--have also increased demand for food. SNAP, or food stamps, benefits were reduced by roughly five percent at the beginning of this month for the nearly 47.7 million Americans on the program, and a family of four receives $36 less each month because of the reduction, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average monthly benefit per household for all 50 states and the District of Columbia last year was $278. The expiring benefits were always intended to be temporary, however. Congress approved a higher level of food stamp benefits for all recipients as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the stimulus bill enacted in 2009. Yet, demand for the program remains at record levels, nearly three times what it was in 2000! House Republicans have proposed nearly $40 billion in cuts to SNAP over the next decade, and the Congressional Budget Office has said such a cut could end benefits for nearly 4 million people next year alone. Senate Democrats have backed a $4 billion cut, and the dispute over SNAP is just a part of ongoing farm bill negotiations, which the government still has yet to resolve. Schmillen said she's already seen the cuts have an effect locally. The Food Shelf, which is open three days per week and has a staff of 18 volunteers, serviced 23 families last week. “That's way more than usual,” she said. They usually service anywhere from 6-12 families in a given week. For the full story, please see Thursday's print edition of the St. James Plaindealer