Food, funds abound at Schenectady pantry’s ‘Harvest’

There was food aplenty at Sunday’s “Harvest for the Pantry” fundraiser, but still hunger nagged at t

There was food aplenty at Sunday’s “Harvest for the Pantry” fundraiser, but still hunger nagged at the minds of all who attended.

The fourth annual event is a major fundraiser for Schenectady Inner City Ministry’s food pantry, which provides more than 60 percent of all emergency food distributed in Schenectady County.

“A little over 20 percent of our community is listed as in poverty,” noted SICM’s executive director, the Rev. Phillip Grigsby. “The economy has been very difficult. It was a problem before and now it’s worse.”

In 2010, the SICM Food Pantry, located on Albany Street, handed out enough food to make close to 400,000 meals for more than 43,000 Schenectady County residents. Totals for 2011 are expected to be even higher.

The need is so great that in January the SICM Food Pantry will increase the number of allowed annual visits from 6 to 12.

The Harvest for the Pantry fundraiser drew 200 attendees and organizers hope the meal, silent auction and pick-a-prize activity will generate $20,000. Those funds will help purchase some of the food handed out at the food pantry. Although some of that food is obtained free of charge through food drives and other donations, much of it must be purchased.

Some is bought at wholesale prices, but the majority is purchased from the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York for 16 cents per pound. Because that price is so reasonable, monetary donations go a long way, Grigsby said.

“If we had a box of Cheerios — you go to the store and you buy that box — for that amount of money, we can go to the Food Bank and buy a case for the same price,” he explained.

A mix of SICM volunteers and supporters congregated around the festively decorated tables in the social hall at the First Reformed Church of Scotia, where the Harvest for the Pantry fundraiser was held. Carmela and Ralph DiGiorgio of Schenectady were happy to enjoy a night out for a good cause.

“We’ve always supported SICM,” Carmela said. She and Ralph used to bring food to the Food Pantry from the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Bellevue before the church closed.

“It was just wonderful to go up there every week but it was also disheartening to see the people that were in need there, just standing in the cold or whatever. There would be so many people waiting in line to get food. It made me grateful for what we do have,” she said.

Carrot sticks sauteed on the stove in the First Reformed Church’s kitchen while a huge pot of Marsala sauce simmered nearby. Chef Nicky Boehm, food service director for the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District, volunteered her time to cook the chicken Marsala with rice and stir-fried vegetables served at the dinner. “It’s a good cause, and I live in Schenectady,” said Boehm as she rushed between the stove and the prep table.

Two paper plates full of the delicious-looking food were set in front of Kathy Collins and Mark Townsend of Schenectady. “We come every year,” Collins said. “It’s a great need. It’s one way I can [help], and it probably does the most good. They need the money to buy food.”

The money is definitely needed, confirmed Gail Van Valkenburgh, SICM’s food program director. “Donations, both from individuals and church congregations, are down,” she said. “I think the reason being is because most of the food drives now are going to Schoharie and the surrounding areas [to assist flood victims].”

Because the number of visits patrons are allowed will double starting in January, the food pantry has started to decrease the amount of food given out in an effort to ensure there will be enough to go around. “We’re taking some of the higher-priced items out of the bags to free up more money [to purchase food] for the 12 visits,” Van Valkenburgh said. Some of the items that will be eliminated include jelly, coffee, chili and soup.

SICM volunteer Anne Yunick of Niskayuna browsed the long line of silent auction items at the Harvest for the Pantry dinner. She was happy to have the opportunity to support a fundraiser that will help further SICM’s mission.

“I think it’s a wonderful service that we have. It’s a very necessary one for our community and we’re fortunate to have the volunteers who are willing to help,” she said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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