NEWPORT CITY – Fran and Melanie Azur have donated a large amount of grass-fed beef to area food shelves.The donation comes just in time for the Christmas holidays. Joe Patrissi, executive director for Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), said at least 300 families went to NEKCA for Thanksgiving baskets, but the organization only had enough for about half of the requests.Over the past year, the demand for food stamps increased 12.5 percent in Essex County and five percent in Orleans County. In addition, 53 percent of the children in Orleans and Essex counties are eligible for the free school lunch program. “The economy is hard,” said Patrissi. Fuel prices, including home heating oil, play a big role in people’s financial problems. “People will rob their food budget to pay for fuel.”Patrissi hopes planned economic development in the region will help with some of that.The Azurs donate food to NEKCA once or twice a year. In May, the Azurs donated $3,000 worth of beef and cheese.Patrissi asked Steve Mason, a consultant to the Azurs, for small cuts of beef so NEKCA can assist more people. “We have to see what this will do for us and see if there is a shortfall,” said Patrissi. “If there is a shortfall, we’ll have to see if we can get some additional donations."Meat is a treat to food shelves. NEKCA buys food from the Vermont Food Bank, but the money available doesn’t buy a lot of meat.The Azurs are not alone in showing their generosity to NEKCA. Representatives from the Derby Village Store recently donated 25 turkeys. NEKCA also receives rescue food from Shaw’s. WMOO-FM ran a food drive at the area supermarkets.“I want to make sure I emphasize how grateful we are to the Azurs and all the people who have donated food for our food shelf,” said Patrissi. He stressed none of the donated food will go to waste. “I’m going to have to meet with my staff at the food shelf to see how we’re going to manage this. We want everyone to get something.”The Azurs also donated meat to food shelves operated by the Orleans Federated Church and the United Church of Newport and to the Jay Food Shelf.