With increased demand during the summer months at Saint James' Episcopal Church food pantry in Oneonta, Director Joyce Mason said, "we are suffering" to meet the challenge. But a combination of grants and donations from a variety of sources has sufficed to provide food to those in need, she said.
A similar story was told at St. Mary's, another Oneonta pantry, which was familiar with the situation in the rest of the county. In Delaware County, at Delaware Opportunities, which has a food pantry that serves the residents in Hamden and a food bank that supplies other county food pantries, an official said they were having no trouble in meeting the increased needs. All, however, said they are dependent on donations.
"Every year we have trouble during the summer," but the needs are met, Mason said. "We've done it before, and we will do it again."
The community has always been generous, she said.
With children out of school during the summer, the need is greater because there are families that can't rely on free and reduced lunches to meet their nutritional needs.
That reality and the current state of the economy, with a higher-than-usual unemployment rate, are all contributing to more demand. In the first seven months of the year, 1,055 families were helped once a month with an allotment of food intended to supplement government programs.
The increase from June to July was 65 families who received an emergency food distribution once a month.
It is intended to supplement Food Stamp programs. At the church's The Lord's Table feeding ministry the numbers served were fairly steady during the year with 1,220 served in July.
Change in policy
Another factor yet to be dealt with at the two programs, and similar programs statewide, is a change, effective Aug. 1, in state Department of Health policy that prevents the programs from using certain state and federal funds to purchase a variety of canned items with more than 720 milligrams of sodium. This prevents the funds from being used to purchase many canned vegetables, as well as chili with beans and ravioli, Mason said.
Food pantries and related programs can still purchase these items using cash donations or receive the items directly. With the number of people needing assistance going up, these kinds of items are important to meet individual needs, she said. She will be placing the first order later this month under the new rules and has requested these items from parishioners.
Overall, with many people on vacation during the summer, donations are down from individuals as well as businesses, including restaurants and grocery stores. There are a lot of people and organizations that are trying to meet the needs of the three Oneonta food pantries, including St. Mary's and the Salvation Army as well as feeding programs, but it can get spread thin, she said.
The program is helped during the summer with vegetables donated by area farmers and gardeners. Donations are also welcomed from events such as weddings.
A resident's perspective
An unemployed Oneonta resident shared his perspective on the Lord's Table program over dinner Wednesday. Gary Von Brock, 55, said he has been attending regularly for more than a decade. He has been unemployed from his bus monitor position for about a year because of a medical condition.
The program, which is open to everyone, "gives people a chance to come together" and share a meal, he said. It is open for a hot meal during weekday hours.
"It helps make ends meet," he said. During the summer, it gets a little busier with more young people in attendance, he said.
At Saint Mary's food pantry, outreach coordinator Janice Hinckley said the situation was "not good," with families served for the first seven months of the year up 24 percent to 1,331. The total for June 2012 was 186 families, and in July there were 207 getting assistance.
Factors for the increase include the economy, and increasing gas and grocery prices, she said.
While food donations have gone down over the years, she said increased monetary donations are making up the difference, which will be important given the changes in the state grant program.
"Hopefully, we will make that up with donations," Hinckley said. "There are no guarantees."
The program is a site for regional food bank distribution to 15 county food pantries and four agencies. "Everybody's hurting," she said.
Concert fundraiser for food
A Cherry Valley resident will be helping his local food pantry by sponsoring a series of concerts this month. Phil Zenir started Folk Fest for Food with his family in 2008. He wanted to do something to teach his children about the importance of helping the community, he said. The free concerts are held Aug. 16, 23, and 30 at 7 p.m. at the Cherry Valley village parking lot. Donations of non-perishable food items are accepted at the concerts, and all proceeds from the sale of food go to the local food pantry.
In Delaware County
In Delaware County, at Delaware Opportunities, "We're doing pretty well so far," though donations are always welcomed, food bank coordinator Linda Vausse said. The effort is helped by a monthly food distribution provided by the regional food bank open to the public. About 15 tons arrive at the county food bank in Hamden, but that's gone in about two or three hours, she said, which has been the case for two to three years.
"It's been a big help to a lot of people," she said. In addition, a number of businesses and organizations have been helpful in providing donations, including State University College of Technology at Delhi, area Boy Scouts, churches and farmers.
"We get a lot of assistance from the community," in providing assistance to 300 to 400 families a month at locations around the county, she said. The total is up about 33 percent over last year -- including a 10 to 15 percent increase during the summer, with children home.
The fresh produce that farmers and gardeners donate during the summer, she said, will help meet the change in state requirements for use of grant funds. She added that she was hopeful state officials would offer ideas on how to meet the needs that will result when the growing season is over.