Donations are dropping at the worst time for the SICM food pantry.
The Schenectady Inner City Ministry food pantry is on track to give out enough food for 22,000 more meals this year than last year — but donations are falling behind.
The agency runs an emergency food pantry on Albany Street in Schenectady. Residents throughout the county can go there once a month to get food.
“Donations are down. I don’t know why,” said food pantry Director Gail Van Valkenburgh.
It’s down in both items and funds donated. Even the big annual fundraiser wasn’t as big this year. The agency held its annual Harvest for the Pantry dinner fundraiser Sunday, but not as many people came as last year.
Yet the need is growing. In the first nine months of the year, the pantry gave out more food than it gave in all of 2011. The need skyrocketed in 2012, and has continued to grow, although more slowly, this year.
Last year the pantry gave out enough food for 450,000 meals. This year, the pantry will likely give out food for 472,000 meals.
About 5,700 families use the pantry each month to supplement their food budget.
And it’s going to get harder for them. Food stamps were cut by about $11 per person, beginning this month, and a larger cut is being considered in Washington.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who has fought hard against that cut, came to the food pantry harvest dinner Sunday to show his support. He told the other diners that they were restoring his faith in humanity after he had to listen to his House of Representatives colleagues dismiss those who are on food stamps.
He said one colleague said publicly, “If you want to eat, get a job.”
Tonko was dismayed.
“That’s clueless,” he said, citing the number of people who work but need food stamps — and the number of children supported by food stamps.
At the fundraiser, he found plenty of support.
Donor Ed Reilly said he keeps giving to the food pantry because of the need.
“The people they serve are the most in need,” he said.
federal cuts ‘Madness’
Donor Chris Jones said the cuts in Congress were “madness” — and perhaps uninformed.
“People who don’t think it’s important aren’t hungry,” he said. “People are hungry. They need jobs and there aren’t any.”
The Rev. Phillip Grigsby, executive director of Schenectady Inner City Ministry, said he suspected that was the reason for the steady growth in need at the food pantry.
“It’s the nature of the economy,” he said. “We’re in a high-tech economy. It’s a lot more money [for capital investments] and a lot fewer jobs.”
Tonko said he had to get that message to his colleagues who have voted to cut food stamps.
“There’s a sadness out there that is misunderstood,” he said. “We have got to fix that.”
He added that he took heart from meeting the food pantry supporters.
“It is rejuvenating to be with you tonight. Here is a community that is concerned,” Tonko told the crowd. “Thank you for your compassion and your mercy. It is an honor to represent you in Washington.”
toiletries, paper goods
Although much of the focus has been on food, Grigsby said the food pantry’s biggest needs are paper products and toiletries.
“Stuff people can’t buy with food stamps,” he said. “The biggest need we have are for diapers, size 4 and up. The food bank is very good about getting diapers, but they’re the small size. If all we have is a newborn diaper, that’s not always going to work.”
Van Valkenburgh added that money can help more than cans of food.
“At the Regional Food Bank, I pay $1 for a box of cereal where the average person pays $4,” she said. “I pay 16 cents a pound. I can buy it for a lot cheaper than them.”