While most of Northeast Pennsylvania was blessed with ample rainfall last week to ease dry conditions, there was little relief over more than half of the continental United States where a blistering drought rages on.

The searing heat and dryness has 63 percent of the area in the lower 48 in some stage of drought. Crops are withering and grain, corn and soybean prices have skyrocketed as the drought intensifies in the nation's midsection.

Consumers should soon begin to feel the impact of the worst U.S. drought in 50-plus years at the grocery store, and it will carry well into 2013. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projected last week the drought will drive food prices up by 3 percent to 4 percent next year on top of expected inflation between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent this year.

While higher prices will challenge the food budgets of many working families, it represents a double whammy for the many food pantries that serve the poor throughout the region. Besides seeing their dollars buy less food, the higher prices cut into the disposable funds available to the many donors who keep the kitchens operating.

Further worsening the situation is that state funding used to purchase food for local food banks is being cut.

With state funding for human services slashed by 10 percent and General Assistance cash grants eliminated in the new state budget, it's becoming increasingly difficult in this region of 8.7 percent unemployment and low average household income to provide fundamentals such as food and shelter to those in need.

The United Way and its member agencies have been doing a commendable job, and the community has responded by surpassing the United Way's annual fund drive goals yearly despite the toll extracted by the recession.

Yet it is fair to question how much more the community can endure to make up for the expanding drought of state services and funding.