A combination of greater need, higher food prices and fewer cash donations could make for skimpy Thanksgiving food baskets this year, according to leaders from Concerned for the Hungry.
The organization has distributed free baskets of Thanksgiving dinner ingredients to income-eligible Schenectady County residents for the past 35 years.
Last week, about 2,700 families signed up for the baskets — 200 more than last year and the highest number of registrants the organization has seen since the height of the recession, according to board member Larry Lewis.
At a glance
• To donate money to Concerned for the Hungry’s Thanksgiving food basket project, visit www.concernedforthehungry.org and click the “donate now” button or send a check payable to Concerned for the Hungry to: Concerned for the Hungry, P.O. Box 119, Schenectady, NY 12301. Food can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 16 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 23 at Keane Elementary School, 1252 Albany St.
• To donate food or funds for Bethesda House’s Thanksgiving dinner, contact Anne McGhee at 374-7873.
• To donate personal care items to be distributed at the Schenectady City Mission’s Thanksgiving dinner, call 346-2275.
Alan Schick, president of Concerned for the Hungry, said the line of people waiting to sign up for the baskets stretched out the door of St. John the Evangelist School on Union Street for three hours Friday night, the first of three signup dates.
“The trouble we’re having is our budget is right now on the tipping point of being able to afford kind of a bare-bones basket and not,” Lewis said.
This year, the organization’s tentative food basket budget is $40,000, but it could be raised to $50,000, Lewis said.
“We spent $85,000 last year. This year, do the math — we have more people, less money and higher food prices. [That’s] known as the perfect storm,” he said.
Donations of non-perishable foods help to supplement what is purchased for the baskets. The Boy Scouts do a food drive, local schools conduct collections and there are donation bins set up at hospitals and churches.
Sometimes, the food that is donated isn’t the fare that’s found on a traditional Thanksgiving menu. In the past, those items have been weeded out and handed over to local food pantries, but this year, to ensure the Thanksgiving baskets will be full, foods like macaroni and cheese and chicken noodle soup will show up along with the stuffing cubes and cranberry sauce.
“People are going to get stuff that they’ve never gotten before and probably will never get again,” Lewis predicted.
The organization is appealing to the community to contribute both cash and food to make sure the baskets each contain enough to make a nice holiday meal.
“The best thing is to give money because we can get more for a dollar at the Food Bank than [donors] can buy at the store, plus we can buy exactly what we need,” Schick said.
Volunteers are also being sought to help prepare and deliver the baskets at Keane Elementary School Nov. 16 and Nov. 20-25.
Needy county residents who did not sign up for a Thanksgiving food basket can still get a free turkey dinner in Schenectady. Bethesda House, 834 State St., will serve a free Thanksgiving meal from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 27 — the day before the holiday.
The organization, which serves homeless, disabled and economically disadvantaged citizens of Schenectady County, typically prepares between 300 and 400 plates for the holiday. This year, organizers are planning for between 500 and 550, said Executive Director Kimarie Sheppard.
The shelter has seen the number of patrons at its free weekday meals double since the end of August, she noted.
Donations of food and cash are being sought for the holiday meal.
The Schenectady City Mission, which also assists Schenectady’s hungry and homeless, will host a free Thanksgiving dinner at 12:30 p.m. on the holiday in the Wallace M. Campbell Dining Center at 512 Smith St., following a noon chapel service.
Volunteers are gearing up to serve between 500 and 600 meals, according to Elizabeth Chamberlain, City Mission’s development director. She said attendance is expected to be about the same as in past years, with perhaps a slight increase.
Personal care items will be passed out to the dinner’s attendees, so donations of things like soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste and lip balm are being sought.