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June 11, 2014

Organizers: Pantries, meal programs need donations

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Based on the 200 hot meals that are served each week year-round at Saturday’s Bread, it’s obvious that people in Otsego and Delaware Counties are hungry, a local organizer said Tuesday.

Frank O’Mara, president of the board of directors for Saturday’s Bread, said the hot meal program has been providing free meals at its site in Oneonta’s First United Methodist Church every Saturday for 22 years. More than 456,000 meals have been served since its inception in 1992.

But with such high demand, local food pantries and hot meal programs such as Saturday’s Bread can’t always afford or keep up with all the related costs, O’Mara said. And they certainly dirty a lot of plates.

For the first time in three years, Saturday’s Bread is requesting donations for the program to help defray the cost of a new commercial dishwasher, an item of “critical” importance, O’Mara said. 

Any given Saturday, between 175 and 200 dinner plates, cups, saucers, silverware pieces and dessert plates are used, O’Mara estimated. That’s not including all the pots and pans it takes to prepare the four-course meal that is served. 

When the program’s dishwasher broke down in April, something had to be done, O’Mara said, but a new commercial dishwasher costs approximately $16,000.

The appliance has served the program since it began 22 years ago, O’Mara said. Because the dishwasher is located within the church and is used for church functions as well, the Methodist Church agreed to help with a portion of the cost. But a heavy financial burden remains, O’Mara said.

According to O’Mara, Oneonta is the only city for miles where an individual can get a free, hot meal any day of the week.

Between Saturday’s Bread, The Lord’s Table and the Salvation Army, a meal is provided seven days a week to anyone who needs or wants one. That’s rare and something to be proud of, O’Mara said. Oneonta was the first community member of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York to be able to make this claim, he added.

But with funding for food pantries and related programs being cut drastically as of late, organizations are struggling to stay afloat.

O’Mara said he was excited to hear that students from Oneonta Middle School are planning an upcoming fundraiser for area food pantries. The middle school will be hosting a “OMS Carnival” from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday with games, food and prizes, according to a recent news brief. 

In order to play the carnival games, guests are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item. Proceeds and food donations will go to local food pantries, the brief said.

Even though the attendance at Saturday’s Bread stays consistent year-round, food banks often get hit harder in the summer because schoolchildren are home for summer break, O’Mara said.

“I’m happy that the school is doing this,” O’Mara said. “Anything anyone can do to help is great.”

Once it’s paid for, the new dishwasher at Saturday’s Bread will work more efficiently, alleviating a great deal of stress for the program, O’Mara said.

“It will wash more dishes, faster,” O’Mara said. “And hopefully use less electricity.”

But the new appliance will mean more than just a load of clean dishes, O’Mara said. Although Saturday’s Bread is not affiliated with any religion, the Methodist Church will have access to the dishwasher, as well, and the weekly program will be able to continue serving the community.

“We’re helping without asking questions,” O’Mara said. “We don’t ask where you’re from, what religion you believe or if you have a job. We have a huge amount of volunteers who volunteer several times a month and just want to be involved. It’s just astounding.”