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Donations to food pantries wane after the holidays while demand for assistance remains high


Pre-Christmas donations stocked shelves at St. Lawrence County’s food pantries, but those shelves are emptying quickly as the holiday spirit of giving wanes and demand for food among the needy remains high.

“Once Christmas tapers off, donations go down,” Patti M. Conger, Ogdensburg’s Neighborhood Center director, said Friday. “We are low on pretty much everything at this point.”

About 350 families turn to the 330 Ford St. neighborhood center each month for help with food, utility bills and other household expenses. Winter months typically result in greater demand for assistance, Ms. Conger said, as heating and electricity bills soar with a drop in temperatures.

A recent cut to food stamp funding with the Nov. 1 expiration of the federal 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has exacerbated the situation, she said.

“People are still trying to re-budget the amount of money they get, and with a higher cost for electric and fuel, people are spending more of their cash,” Ms. Conger said. “We get a higher demand this time of year.”

The Ogdensburg Neighborhood Center’s situation is by no means unique, said St. Lawrence County Community Development Program Director Norma S. Cary. CDP oversees the county’s food pantries.

“All of us appreciate people’s generosity over the holidays, but people still need to be fed all year long,” she said. “We’re seeing people we have never seen before, more individuals who just don’t have the funds to feed their families. It really hasn’t let up.”

Ms. Cary said food pantries rely on community donations to stock shelves and pay for heating and utility assistance for needy families.

When those donations fade, the pantries can only do so much to fulfill their missions, she said.

“We’re getting hit really hard, especially after the holidays, and this really, really cold weather is resulting in more people seeking heating assistance,” she said.

The demand for assistance never drops, said Thomas E. Proulx, coordinator of the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry, 128 Main St., Massena.

He said that in November, the pantry served 167 households through general food distribution and 149 households through emergency distribution. In December, the pantry provided Christmas food packages to 348 households.

“We’ve had to go out an purchase additional food besides what has been donated to try to maintain so we can keep helping people,” Mr. Proulx said. “Donations just can’t keep up with our demand.”

He said that while some pantries see a spike in requests for assistance over the winter, requests for help through the St. Vincent de Paul pantry remain steady throughout the year.

“In the summer the kids are out of school, and a lot of them get breakfast and lunch supplemental meals in school. When the kids are home in summer, they’re not getting that,” Mr. Proulx said. “We’re quite busy all year long.”

New Beginnings Center at 3605 State St., Madrid, is one of the lucky ones, coordinator Anita C. Davis said. Donations made over the holidays probably will last through the winter, she said. In addition to Madrid, the center serves Norwood, Norfolk, and Morley.

“In November we had 41 adults and 28 children,” Ms. Davis said. “I feel blessed that we’re in good shape because other places have a lot more people coming to them.”

Still, she said, new faces are coming to the center all the time in addition to those who regularly request assistance. She said nobody among the center’s clientele is undeserving of help.

“I know the people who come every month come because they need to,” she said. “I expect more people will come. I’m not terribly worried about making it through the winter, but I know we’re going to get a lot more calls.”

All of the center directors said monetary donations may be made by mail or in person.

Food donations can be dropped off at the centers during regular business hours.

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