A few dozen people gathered outside Bellevue Reformed Church in Schenectady on Sunday, and, one by one, each took a can of soup, tuna, diced tomatoes or pasta and placed it in a newly mounted cabinet.
On the side of the wooden cupboard, complete with four levels of shelving, read the words “Take what you need. Give what you can. Everything is a blessing.”
A free little food pantry opened up Sunday outside the church on Broadway. While other city neighborhoods have more centralized resources to feed the hungry, the church’s pantry is aimed at helping Bellevue residents who aren’t sure where their next meal will come from.
“This will help bridge the gap on a day-to-day basis,” said Nicole Gentile, a church member who led the effort to create the food pantry. “You couldn’t live off of it, but it could help if you know you don’t have a meal tonight for your family.”
The idea for the pantry had been in the works for a few months, said Gentile, who worked with four other committee members to make the project a reality. As an AmeriCorps Vista Fellow, she’s spent much of the year mapping out food resources in the county, she said.
After breaking down the neighborhoods in Schenectady, she noticed the closest food pantry in Bellevue is on lower Broadway, which is a bit too far away to be useful to most residents, Gentile said.
Though she lives in Rotterdam, she’s been a member of the Bellevue church her whole life, she said.
Taking a page from the Free Little Libraries in Albany, where passersby can take a book from a home with a makeshift bookcase in their yard, Gentile decided to fashion something similar, but for food and hygiene products.
“We don’t have the capacity to operate a whole food pantry, but the idea is you can come any time of day, and you don’t have to have documentation that says you’re a resident of the area, because that’s a barrier for some people,” she said.
The pantry is located just outside the church’s front entrance, and will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Gentile said. The hope is that it will become not just a church project, but a community one, she said, where residents both use the pantry as needed and drop off non-perishable items to keep it stocked.
The rule for food, Gentile added, is “if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t donate it.”
Gentile is hopeful the idea might inspire similar food pantries to pop up elsewhere in the community.
Pastor Rich Scheenstra views the food pantry as a way the church can be more directly involved in the community. He echoed Gentile, saying Bellevue is a neighborhood that lacks resources to fight hunger, even though the problem affects a number of families who live there.
He acknowledged the potential for things to go awry, noting someone could vandalize the pantry or clean it out and sell the items for personal gain, but he said the overall cause matches up with the church’s mission.
“We know the risks involved and the possible problems along the way,” Scheenstra said. “But we’re excited to see what we’ll learn from this.”