As increasing numbers of residents struggle to get by, food pantry workers report greatly increased demand for their supplies.
“I’ve never seen it like this before,” said Megan Quillinan, executive director of the Mechanicville Area Community Services Center, which runs a food pantry. She’s been there eight years, and in 2007 the pantry served 787 families. Through the end of October this year, she said, that number has gone up to more than 1,400. The pantry served twice as many people this September and October as it did in the same two months last year.
People’s paychecks aren’t keeping pace with inflation, Quillinan said, and as a result, the Mechanicville pantry is running low on food.
“The shelves are low. We need everything,” she said. They’ve never run out of soup before, she said, but were down to about 10 cans on Friday. While they don’t turn people in need away, they are asking that recipients come only once a month.
Not that food hasn’t been coming in, from food drives by Mechanicville schools, postal workers and the Boy Scouts, and the regular weekly contributions from Assumption-St. Paul and St. Edward the Confessor churches. New Country Toyota is running a Thanksgiving food drive with the Mechanicville Express weekly newspaper, and Faldoni’s Restaurant in Mechanicville will offer free meals that day to people who have registered with the community center.
But Quillinan said a larger community response will be needed to boost supplies over and after the holiday season, especially since federal and state funding for food pantries has been reduced in recent years. People can drop off nonperishable items at the community center on Main Street next to the Post Office, or they can contribute cash or a check.
The pantry is open Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. It serves mostly city residents, but there are no geographic restrictions. Nearby pantries include one at Stillwater United Church and another at Jonesville Methodist Church.
Nancy Dingee is community services director for the Schoharie County Community Action Program, which has the county’s largest food pantry in Cobleskill and coordinates with the other pantries. She agreed with Quillinan that the working poor are increasingly coming in, and said for them it’s become more of a supplemental pantry than an emergency one.
“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the past six months,” Dingee said. The pantry now serves over 100 families a month, more than double the number of a year ago.
SCCAP is gearing up to provide 400 or more Christmas baskets, and is hoping donations keep pace.
Mark Quandt, executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, said most food pantries are serving between 20 percent and 50 percent more people this year than last. Some are running out or cutting back, he said, and “we don’t necessarily have everything they need.”
Protein, such as canned meat and fish and jars of peanut butter, and cereal are in particular high demand and short supply, he said.
The food bank encourages donations to local food pantries, but also accepts them itself, in food or money, at its headquarters at 965 Albany-Shaker Road in Latham.
“Donations are up this year,” Quandt said, with a lot coming in from Price Chopper, Hannaford, Wal-Mart and Railex.
The Regional Food Bank also offers an “Extra Helpings Program,” a food-buying co-op in which the Mechanicville Community Center participates.
Prices went up in October, and now, for example, the “meat box” special costs $32 for two pounds of stuffed pork chops, three pounds of mustard-flavored chicken breasts, three pounds of beef patties, two pounds of sausage links and three pounds of chicken patties.
In Albany, the 39th annual Equinox Thanksgiving Day Community Dinner will use more than 3,000 volunteers to provide 8,000 meals, about 500 of them served at the First Presbyterian Church but most delivered throughout the Capital Region.
“All surplus donations will be used to assist needy families throughout the coming year,” says the Equinox Web site, and potential volunteers, donors or recipients can call 434-0131.
The Catholic Charities food pantry in Amsterdam also is looking for volunteers, saying on its Web site: “For more information please contact Amy or Jessica at 518-842-4202 ext. 3132.”