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November 18, 2013

Local food pantries brace for SNAP cuts

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Local efforts are underway to ensure that food pantries are ready to help families who may be struggling with grocery bills.   

Area residents are among those nationwide experiencing the cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, just as local food pantries are also facing a loss in state funds.

“Our shelves were almost empty,” Otego Food Pantry volunteer coordinator Betty Truscott said on Thursday. 

But that changed when members of the Otego Elementary School Student Council dropped a donation of 797 nonperishable food items. 

Second-grader Lauren Scott, who is student council secretary, said it was difficult collecting all that food, but “we were glad to be a part of it,” noting that “Some people don’t have the food they need.” Council treasurer Bailey McCoy, also in second grade, said she was glad to be helping others.

Second-grade teacher Michele Wilson helped coordinate the effort with the assistance of kindergarten teacher and council advisor Kim Platt. The food drive is a regular effort by the school, Wilson said.

Pantry President John Truscott said the pantry was not operating on a regular basis until a year ago. It served five families in its first year of operation. 

“It’s been an awesome experience to see everyone pitching in to get it going,” he said.

Truscott said 59 families will be helped by the school children’s donations. 

‘IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE MONEY, YOU CAN’T BUY THE FOOD’

In Oneonta, St. James’ Episcopal Church Food Pantry director Joyce Mason said “We are going to see a lot more people come December. ... It’s going to get tougher for a lot of people with cuts to SNAP benefits and higher prices in the grocery store.” 

Families are eligible for a predetermined amount of groceries every thirty days at a pantry, depending on income and side of the household. Her organization served more than 100 households in October; that number is down from nearly 200 the year before. However, the church’s feeding program, The Lord’s Table, served more people this October than last — a total of more than 1,500. 

“If you don’t have the money, you can’t buy the food,” Mason noted, adding that, not knowing what the future holds, “We try to keep our shelves stocked.” 

The pantry is stocked through private donations, as well as donations of unused food from Oneonta High School and Panera Bread. So far, Mason said, supply is keeping up with demand. But she wasn’t so optimistic about the future. 

“We need to watch our funds,” Mason cautioned, adding that the food pantry is “lucky to have the support from a number of places. ... It’s a very giving community that tries to help out any way they can.”

CHRISTMAS BASKETS GET THE AXE

In Delaware County, where Delaware Opportunities supports 15 affiliated food pantries in Delaware County, “It’s too soon to tell how the cuts will affect the service,” agency advocate Deborah Eisenberg said. 

According to Eisenberg, people usually come at the end of the month for food, but it could start a little earlier this month because of the decrease in SNAP funds. USA Today estimated that the cuts amount to the loss of 21 meals for a family of four. 

In light of tight budgets, the agency won’t be doing Christmas baskets this year. The savings of $8,000 is needed to make sure the pantries have adequate funding, she said. 

About $4,000 a month is budgeted for food. Delhi and Hamden pantries served about 400 people in October, which is similar to the same time last year, she said. 

The agency will be depending on methods such as food drives and informing people about what is going on to keep the shelves stocked. 

“While we are okay for now,” a lot will depend on supplies from Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, which serves this area, she said.

CHURCH FOOD PANTRY ‘TIGHTENING THE BELT’

St. Mary’s Church outreach coordinator Janice Hinckley said its food pantry has gotten off to a “busy start” in November with families already starting to come in for food. 

“Usually it’s the last couple of weeks of the month when we start to get busy,” she said. In October, the food pantry served 802 people; last year at the same time, it only served 650. 

With the price of food going up and governmental heating assistance being delayed this year, Hinkley said she could understand the change. 

With the organization’s state grant depleted in October, things would be difficult without the support of parishioners and fundraisers, she said. 

An upcoming Boy Scout food drive will benefit Hinkley’s food pantry, as well as a food pantry in Davenport. 

Hinkley noted that a lot of organizations around the holiday are very generous to the effort. Still, she said there is concern about the future that will lead to meeting with volunteers after Thanksgiving to make sure they are careful not to give too much to families in their monthly allotments. 

“We have to be careful with spending, and tightening the belt,” Hinkley said, “to make sure everybody gets something.”