Oneonta food pantry to celebrate 40th anniversary Thursday

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarSt. Mary's Food Pantry manager Bob Folensbee, left, trains volunteer Michael Davis in the pantry on Walnut Street in Oneonta on Friday.

St. Mary's Food Pantry at 39 Walnut St. in Oneonta will celebrate its 40th anniversary from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14. 

"I'm very proud of it," pantry coordinator Linda Burns said. "It is just a beautiful, beautiful pantry." 

Burns, who has been with the pantry for three years, said a group of the church's parishioners began the pantry with Sister Charlene Denver in 1979, after seeing there was a need in Oneonta. The work was originally done out of the rectory across the street, she said.  

"At the time, the food was stored all over the rectory," Burns said. "In 2006, we moved across the street into the old St. Mary's School (annex), and that has given us all the space we need. We are set up like a store, really."

The pantry follows nutritional guidelines, and visitors are helped by the shelter's volunteers. 

"I have about 40 volunteers, and I couldn't do this without them," Burns said. "Some of them come once a month, and I am grateful, and some are here three days a week, from the minute we open until the end of the day. 

"Not only do we have great volunteers, but we have great partners, too," she said. Most of the local grocery stores donate food, Burns said. The Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners are working on a garden project to donate food, and there is a cooking program as well.

The local Boy Scout Troop 23, built storage shelves for an Eagle project, and the organization is "amazing" compared to the days of the packed rectory, Burns said.

Jazzy's Place Dog Food Initiative, a New York foundation dedicated to helping families that are struggling financially to take care of their pets, donates dog food, Burns said. 

Burns said the pantry and church have a particular concern for the homeless population in Oneonta and have built a good relationship with the homeless shelter. She said visitors are always informed where hot meals are served during the week, and she is impressed with how generous the city is with helping those in need. 

"We have a special place in our hearts for people who are homeless," she said. "We do allow them to visit more often than every 30 days, because they don't take as much food with them."

During Thursday's event, Burns said, she will give tours of the pantry, including many rooms the public doesn't usually get to see. 

"I am very proud of the pantry," she said. "It is spotless and it is organized, and the people who use it say great things about it.

"Some of the testimonials they give us make me cry," she said.

The pantry is open from Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Go to www.stmarysoneonta.org/food-pantry or call 607-386-2623 for more information.  

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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