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Food pantry needs: ‘It’s never going to go down’


There are days when Patricia M. Conger breathes a sigh of relief when the big truck from Food Bank of Central New York, Syracuse, rolls up outside her office in the basement at Ogdensburg City Hall.

Ms. Conger is director of the Ogdensburg Neighborhood Center and its food pantry. Food Bank makes deliveries twice a month. “There are times I keep my fingers crossed that we get through the month,” she said. “It’s scary.”

What scares Ms. Conger, and many of the 27 churches, neighborhood centers and other organizations in St. Lawrence County that get food pantry deliveries from the Food Bank, is a need for their services that looks never to wane in an economy strapped by unemployment and home finances so strained that groceries are a luxury. Ms. Conger’s food pantry statistics tell a grim story. In 2011, there were 4,960 individual requests for food. So far this year, there have been 5,914 requests..

There is no sign of subsiding demand for Ms. Conger’s agency, whose service area extends to Lisbon, Brier Hill, DePeyster, Hammond, Heuvelton, Morristown, Rensselaer Falls and Waddington. “It’s never going to go down,” she said.

In Lisbon, food pantries are run by several churches. The distribution is housed in the Lisbon Wesleyan Church building.

“People from different churches drop food in throughout the week,” the Rev. Jeff Bakos said. “Just about daily something is being dropped off. There is a small budget, about $100, that is used to fill in the gaps. It’s basically a shop. People are given two bagfuls of food. It’s really designed to be a three-day emergency supply of food. It’s a community effort.”

Donations are essential even for Food Bank clients because the Syracuse agency’s deliveries often account for a smaller percentage of total supply.

“Our food pantry is about 85 percent donations from the local community, with the rest coming from the Food Bank,” Ogdensburg Salvation Army Capt. Angela S. Shaffer said.

The Salvation Army serves Heuvelton, Lisbon, Ogdensburg and Morristown. Starting last Monday, pantry visits were reduced from every 30 days to every 60 days because of a shortage of donations.

Ms. Conger said that grant-bought supplies from the Food Bank account for 30 to 40 percent of the Neighborhood Center pantry’s budget. The donations that fill in the gap are appreciated. During the summer, Ms. Conger said, the gardens at the Ogdensburg and Riverview correctional facilities are a source of 1,500 pounds of produce a week.

In Hopkinton, the food pantry at Town Hall last year served an estimated 300 people from 80 families. “We make certain we have food enough for that many people each month, although our numbers vary,” volunteer Georgia Macy said. “We do expect our numbers to increase during the winter months as the fuel bills and increased electric bills impact our patrons’ budgets.”

“Our food pantry relies entirely upon donations to be able to purchase food,” Ms. Macy said. “We are not sponsored by any agency. Comlinks in Malone had delivered food products to our pantry each month, but they are closing their doors the end of September and are no longer able to help us. This is a big blow to us and all local pantries.”

The Helping Hands Food Pantry serves Potsdam, Norwood, Colton, South Colton, Parishville and Pierrepont. Director Jane Wells said it has noticed a steady increase in the number of families it serves, now at 50 to 60 per month.

In Canton, the number of people seeking food from the Canton Church & Community Program has jumped significantly compared with this time a year ago, Director Catherine E. Mathews said. So far this year, the agency has provided enough food for 27,180 meals, compared with 12,879 during the same period a year ago. The agency stocks its shelves with food from the Food Bank, donations from area churches and food drives held by civic groups and college students.

New clients also are heading to Canton’s other food pantry, the Neighborhood Center, 5 West St. Lisa M. VanKirk, the new director, said the agency serves about 175 families, which increases by at least one or two families every month.

At the Hammond Food Pantry, co-director Joan V. Hadlock said, more than 80 families from Hammond, Morristown and Chippewa Bay are served monthly.

The Tri-Town Community Services Food Pantry serves the towns of Brasher, Lawrence and Stockholm.

Johnson Newspapers writers Sean Ewart, Benny Fairchild, Sue Mende and Amanda Purcell contributed to this report.

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