Times are tough, and even when both breadwinners in a family work, low wages and steadily rising food prices can stretch a grocery budget thinner than a cheap hamburger.

Struggling families in Lansford can turn to the Shepherd House Food Pantry, now at Trinity Lutheran Church, 104 East Abbott Street, to help feed their hungry children.

The food pantry distributes groceries from 9:30 - 11 a.m. on the third Monday of each month. In January, that means the pantry will be open on the 17th.

The groceries are basic: cereal, peanut butter, soups, crackers, pasta, sauce, tuna, canned or dry milk, canned fruits and vegetables. On special occasions, there may be fresh produce or chicken.

The food pantry, which operates under the auspices of Shepherd House, recently moved from the St. Katharine Drexel gymnasium at 111 E. Abbott St. to the Trinity Lutheran Church. Senior food pantry representative Betty Pearson said the move was necessary because the heat had been turned off and the radiators removed from the gymnasium building.

Efforts to reach the Rev. Kenneth Medve, pastor of St. Katharine Drexel, were unsuccessful. However, Stanley Haupt, director of Shepherd House Food Pantries, said he understood the building was to be demolished.

Pearson said she's grateful for the 10 years the pantry was housed, free of charge, at the building.

Haupt is thankful the pantry has been able to stay in the borough.

"I'm glad that has worked out, because they had to find a new home rather quickly," he said.

Trinity Lutheran pastor John Keiter said he was very much delighted to have the food pantry housed in the church. If it had not been able to move there, he said, "we didn't know where it would go."

It's important that the food pantry have a home in Lansford because the need for help is on the rise, Pearson said. The food pantry has been operating in the borough for 18 years.

"We had 30 people when we first started. But in these last few years, it really grew," she said.

Haupt said that in November, the Lansford pantry served 112 households.

Pearson blames the poor economy.

"There's no work. Everybody's laid off," she said.

Carbon County has taken particularly hard hits in the wallet.

According to the state Department of Labor and Industry, the unemployment rate in the county was 11.2 percent as of October. That's higher than the state rate, which was 8.8 percent, and the national rate, which was 9.6 percent.

Haupt said at a January 2010 Carbon County Family and Child Collaborative meeting that the organization provided 235,527 meals to 11,140 households, or 29,910 people in 2009, spending a total $120,802.95 on meals. He said at the time that Shepherd House saw the numbers of people needing food assistance rise between 20 and 30 percent that year.

The numbers continue to rise.

"There have been more increases, especially now that we're into the winter months," Haupt said Friday.

Shepherd House food pantries are in Beaver Meadows, Jim Thorpe, Lansford, Lehighton, Nesquehoning, Palmerton, Summit Hill, Tresckow, and Weatherly.

People seeking to receive food from the pantry must meet income guidelines and show proof of residence.

Pearson shops for food supplies at the local Boyer's supermarket in the borough, then sends the bill to Shepherd House. Second Harvest, Allentown, also donates food. Donations of money (deposited into a special account at Boyer's) or food items are greatly appreciated, and stay in the community, she said.

She thanked Trinity Lutheran, Remmey Pallet in Mahoning Township for building special pallets, free of charge, to keep food items up off the floor. She also thanked the Rev. Marjorie Keiter of St. John's Slovak Lutheran Church in Lansford for generous donations, the Parrot Club for its recent $500 donation, St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital, Coaldale, and all those who donate food and/or money.