Food pantries under the gun

Food pantries throughout the region are seeing new faces and more members of the working poor as the

Food pantries throughout the region are seeing new faces and more members of the working poor as the weak economy continues to sputter.

Some pantries are running low on nonperishable foods.

The Franklin Community Center in Saratoga Springs put out a plea for help this week because its food shelves were getting bare.

Kari Cushing, executive director of the nonprofit human service agency, said the pantry at 10 Franklin St. has served more than 1,000 people in the past two months.

“People are losing their jobs, living paycheck to paycheck,” she said.

Cushing said that after the center put out a request on Facebook for such things as peanut butter and

jelly, macaroni and cheese, cereal and canned tuna and chicken, the response was almost immediate. Only an hour or two after the plea for help, she said the pantry began getting donations.

“It was very heartwarming,” Cushing said.

Other area pantries have seen their needs grow, as well.

“We’ve seen a real increase,” said Major Michael Himes of the Salvation Army in Schenectady.

Himes and other agencies that operate pantries and meals for the needy say they are serving people they’ve never seen before.

“The end of the month seems to be coming earlier now,” Himes said.

He referred to people who are on public assistance and run out of money near the end of the month. They need simple food items until another welfare or unemployment check arrives, he said.

The Salvation Army at 222 Lafayette St. has also been helping victims of the floods in Schenectady, Scotia, Glenville and Rotterdam Junction. The organization has mobile canteens that drive to flood-ravaged areas and serve hot meals, Himes said.

The Salvation Army and other food pantries purchase foods at greatly reduced prices from the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in Latham. The food bank, a nonprofit organization, receives donations from the food industry and distributes them to charitable agencies serving hungry and disadvantaged people in 23 counties in upstate New York.

The Rev. Phillip Grigsby, executive director of the Schenectady Inner City Ministry, said the Regional Food Bank brings a tractor-trailer filled with perishable and nonperishable foods to the ministry’s pantry at 839 Albany St. on the last Thursday of the month for a free distribution day.

“It’s first-come, first-served,” Grigsby said. “The line just goes around the parking lot.”

He said the ministry used to serve about 200 people on those Thursdays. The most recent Thursday, more than 400 received help.

“We are seeing more people who haven’t used the food pantry before and people who can’t get back into employment,” Grigsby said.

The ministry is also seeing “more and more working poor,” he said. The reason for the increase?

“Mostly the economy,” Grigsby said. He said good-paying, blue-collar manufacturing jobs like those at General Electric are a thing of the past.

The Inner City Ministry has a food pantry open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings.

“Definitely the numbers are up over last year,” said John Nasso, executive director of Catholic Charities of Fulton and Montgomery Counties.

Catholic Charities has its food pantry at the corner of Guy Park Avenue and Kimball Street in Amsterdam. Nasso said the agency is seeing more families with children and senior citizens.

He said the demand for the food pantry has increased 20 percent each quarter this year over 2010, and demand for the pantry also increased between 2009 and 2010.

The biggest increase the Catholic Charities pantry saw was in August, when it served 515 people. Nasso said the pantry had been averaging 350 people per month.

Nasso said his agency also depends on the Regional Food Bank to supply its pantry.

“We are doing pretty good,” Nasso said. He said members of the public have also been generous in their donations.

Categories: Schenectady County

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