New pantry location coming to Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam

Messiah Lutheran Church Senior Pastor Rev. Dustin Wright speaks during a press conference at Schenectady City Hall in March 2021.

Messiah Lutheran Church Senior Pastor Rev. Dustin Wright speaks during a press conference at Schenectady City Hall in March 2021.

A new 1,000-square-foot food pantry is being built at the Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam to help in feeding the community.

The project broke ground Wednesday evening and construction by Manchester Homes is expected to take place until April, according to a news release from the church.

The Bread of Life pantry was first established on Oct. 4, 2015, after congregation members read a story in The Gazette about the number of Mohonasen Central School District students — over one-third in the district — receiving free or reduced lunch.

That article sparked a larger conversation among congregation members Judy Becker, Jill Becker and Joyce Gresham about the needs of the church’s Rotterdam/Bellevue neighborhood.

In 2017, another bit of information released in the Schenectady County Healthy and Equitable Food Action Plan showed the area was one of the few without a weekly pantry.

“That one sentence in the Action Plan spurred us to dream bigger about how we could fill a very specific gap in our community: a weekly food pantry that provides meals for our neighbors in need within federal HPNAP [Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program] guidelines,” said Rev. Dustin Wright in the release.

Over the years, and especially as the pandemic hit, the pantry outgrew its original space. With the church doing more events virtually the pantry began taking over space in the congregation’s Sunday school rooms.

When the Messiah members unified with Trinity Reformed, it was decided that the pantry would become the “anchor tenant” of the Trinity Community Center, according to the release. That center addresses food security, mental health and emotional well-being and arts, culture and self-expression.

The church was able to secure a $75,000 grant from the Schenectady Foundation’s Healthy Food Access for All Program that will be used to cover the cost of the project and some operational expenses.

“We see this renovations, relocation and expansion of our food pantry program to be the foundation of our community outreach and mission to uphold social justice and inclusion of all people,” said Barbara Quackenbush, the lead grant writer for the project in the release.

The pantry also aligned with the mission of the Schenectady Foundation, said Robert Carreau, the executive director.

“Our investment in this project is expanding access to food in an area of the county where it is greatly needed and there are few other resources for residents to rely on,” he said in the release.

Currently there are three sessions a month for the pantry where people can drive up, get a list of available items and pick out what they want, Wright said. Volunteers then retrieve those items from the pantry. By next summer Wright said he hopes to move to the weekly schedule.

There were 1,800 people served in 2021, with 16,000 meals going to help people, Wright said.

He said they are anticipating aiding 2,400 people this year.

Last year the Mohonasen Central School District had 46% of students receiving free and reduced.

“This year’s data is not accurate due to all lunches and breakfasts being free for all students,” said Superintendent Shannon Shine “We have food pantries at each of our four levels under the umbrella of MohonCARES.”

MohonCARES is a program the district runs with donations to provide food, clothing and toiletries to students across the district.

“We also share lists of community food resources to our families, especially prior to the summer,” he said. “Our goal remains ensuring no Mohonasen students go hungry as we have many food insecure households. Basic readiness for learning, and really all school related activities, depends upon adequate food and nutrition at its core.”

Categories: News, Rotterdam, Schenectady County

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