In what ministry officials believe is a symptom of a tight economy, requests for assistance through Good Samaritan Ministries are running at a summer pace usually seen only during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

It is continuing a trend that started last September that has pushed food pantry services up by almost 30 percent this year.

“This month, we’ve already served almost as many people as we did in all of November,” Angelia Bostick, executive director, said last week.

That number includes a significant number of people Good Samaritan is seeing for the first time, Bostick said. It also includes a number of people who have jobs but who are having difficulties making ends meet.

“You can tell they’re uncomfortable about coming here for help,” one food pantry volunteer said. “They’ve never been in this position before.”

The first weeks of August were particularly busy, Bostick said, but the number of people coming in has slowed somewhat as the month progressed. Good Samaritan can fill only one request each month per family.

Good Samaritan is open for four hours each weekday — from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day except for Wednesday, when its hours are 1 to 5 p.m.

Bostick said the same trends are being seen in the clothing area of the ministry.

Major increases in the number of individuals served by the food pantry began to be seen a year ago, statistics provided by Bostick indicate.

“That trend has continued throughout 2009,” Bostick said. “This represents a 29 percent increase over 2008. In July alone, we purchased over 81,000 pounds of food from the Food Bank.” Another truckload of food was delivered earlier this month.

From January through Aug. 12, 370 new families were added to Good Samaritan’s client base. That includes 50 added in May, 70 in June, 72 in July and 38 during the first two weeks of August.

“So far, we have not had to decrease the amount of food being provided to families, but as numbers served increases and funds decrease, this may become a very real necessity,” Bostick said.

After 10 fewer people were served in July 2008 than July 2007 (1,543 from 1,553), the monthly comparison went up by 53 (1,602 from 1,549) in August, 458 (1,619 from 1,161) in September, 141 (1,791 from 1,650) in October, 568 (2,253 from 1,684) in November and 572 (3,541 from 2,069) in December.

Same-month-last-year comparisons in the first half of 2009 tracked between 300 and 400 additional people each month, the statistics show. The total number of individuals served topped 2,000 in June, after only 1,414 people were served in June 2008. The total was 2,236 in July, compared to 1,543 in July 2008 — and 2,252 in November 2008.

In addition to the food pantry and clothing store, Good Samaritan also provides limited financial assistance to families for utility costs, “Help for Health” program assistance or medical needs, disaster response, “Baby Blessings” starter kits for new mothers, tracts and New Testaments with every order of food in English or Spanish and a host of other services that may present themselves on an isolated basis.

“We can be flexible within our means because we never know when we ‘may be entertaining angels unaware,’” Bostick said.