Hungry people strain pantries

Even as more seek help, groups fear many don’t ask

HILLSDALE–Representatives of area food pantries confirmed this week what the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report released Monday: More Americans lack consistent access to adequate food than at any time since the government began keeping records on hunger.

Area pantries are serving many more families than they have in the past, but their representatives almost universally expressed concern for the people in need who are too embarrassed or too proud to ask for help.

Peter Quinn, who manages Charlie’s Pantry, which serves New Lebanon and part of Stephentown in neighboring Rensselaer County, said that people in need are not confined to the 10% or so of the area’s workforce who lack jobs: “I’m seeing more working people,” he said, “people who have jobs at the minimum wage and can’t afford to buy food after they pay the rent and the fuel bill–especially the fuel bill.” But the number of people he serves has remained relatively stable over last year; a lot of people “have moved out,” he said. “They have to go where the jobs are.”

Stephentown’s food pantry is especially hard hit: In February, it helped 4 people; in October it provided food for 66. For Thanksgiving, 27 families signed up for baskets, as opposed to 17 last year. “We still have resources, but the need is growing by leaps and bounds. We need help,” pantry Chair Ellen Jennings said. 

Bette Gallup, long-time coordinator of the Roe Jan Area Food Pantry, which serves southeastern Columbia County, said that the need has been “overwhelming,” adding that over two months this year the calls for help “almost tripled.” But still, she said, “There are [more] people who need to come to us.”

Turkeys for Thanksgiving baskets are contributed by radio personality NASCAR Dave, at radio station WQQQ in Sharon, Conn., but even after the 126 baskets that people have signed up for are distributed, she said, the pantry’s shelves are full. “Copake Parks and Recreation had a big drive, the Young at Hearters are collecting for us; people are giving us money. It’s a marvelous community to live in.”

The Pine Plains Food Locker, which serves the entire Pine Plains Central School District, which extends into southern Columbia County, is also well taken care of, according to Pat Minetti. While the demand is up–the organization is helping an average of 35 families every month. The organization expects to provide up to 50 Thanksgiving baskets, also with the help of the radio station, and Ms. Minetti is concerned that people “need the food but don’t come for distribution.” Senior citizens, she says, will go without. “I tell them that I’ll deliver, I’ll come and pick them up and let them take whatever they need. But they have a lot of pride.”

This time of year donations come in more readily, said Carol Matthews, of the Valatie Food Pantry. “Food donations evaporate in the summer. Our demand is higher in the summer because the kids are out of school.” Donations in the past weeks have been “more promising,” she said. Local businesses, churches, and even students do a lot to help the organization, she said, “especially at this time of year. We look forward to this time of year.” Their pantry is serving an average of 80 families, she said, with a peak in March of 101 families, which includes 327 individuals.

The Chatham Lions Club will provide the 60 turkeys signed up for at the Chatham Food Pantry, according to Director Julie Alexander, and the Chatham Synagogue raised $1,200 for gift certificates to provide for “fixings.” She shared the concern expressed by other pantry directors: Although the pantry is serving from 50 to 70 families a month, “there are people in our community, even those who have jobs, who need to come.  Some folks with jobs don’t earn enough,” she said. “And we are the Chatham Area Silent Pantry. We don’t ask a whole lot of questions.”

Ghent, which serves the town and the Chatham School District, has been so strained that the town put an appeal on its website for turkeys for the Thanksgiving meal. Seventy families signed up for Thanksgiving baskets, double what it was last year, reflecting the doubling in demand at that pantry.

And in Philmont, according to the village website, need among children is up 100% over the past two years. The pantry provided food for 80 different families, which included 78 children, 68 adults and 50 elderly.

Area libraries are joining in the effort to restock pantries: New Lebanon collected food instead of fines this week, and several other libraries will do so during the week of December 5 to 11.

Although Thanksgiving is being successfully addressed, the need will continue.

Local food pantries:

The Ecumenical Food Pantry

First Presbyterian Church

3212 Church Street

Valatie, NY 12184

(518) 758-9658 (Jim Gilmore)

Serving the Ichabod Crane School District area. Open by appointment 7 days a week. 

Valatie Food Pantry, St. John’s Catholic Church 

Roe Jan Food Pantry

Hillsdale Methodist Church

Route 22 & Route 23

Hillsdale, NY 12529

(518) 325-5613 (Lois Edelman)

(518) 325-4986 (Bette Gallup)

Serving the Roe Jan area: Hillsdale, Copake, Ancram, Gallatin. Open by appointment only. 

Church Of The Holy Cross

Route 82

West Taghkanic, NY

(518) 851-2474 (Janet Lasher)

Serving Taghkanic, Livingston, Gallatin, and Ancram area. Open by appointment only. 

Chatham Area Silent Pantry

Tracy Memorial Village Hall Basement

Chatham, NY 12037

(518) 392-7794

Open Monday, Tuesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, and Thursdays from 5 to 6 p.m. 

Philmont/Mellenville Food Pantry

Claverack Town Offices

91 Church Street

Mellenville, NY

(518) 672-7524

Serving Philmont and Mellenville. Open Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon.

Checks can be written to the Mellenville-Philmont Food Pantry and dropped off at the Philmont Public Library or the Claverack Town Offices on Church Street. 

Ghent Food Pantry

Ghent Town Hall

Route 66

Ghent, NY 12075

(518) 392-4053

Serving the town of Ghent. Open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m..

Donations may be made to: Ghent Food Pantry, P. O. Box 98, Ghent, NY 12075-0098. 

Stephentown Food Pantry

Stephentown Federated Church, Garfield Road (County Route 26)

Saturday mornings from 9 to 11 a.m; (518) 733-5923 or 733-0268.

Donations to Stephentown Food Pantry treasurer at P.O. Box 387, Stephentown, NY  12168. 

Charlie’s Pantry

Immaculate Conception Church

Route 20

New Lebanon, NY 12125

(518) 766-6273 (Peter Quinn)

Serving New Lebanon School District, parts of Stephentown. Open by appointment.

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