“This community is amazingly generous and warm,” said JoAnn Holland, a volunteer at the Granville Area Ecumenical Council Food Pantry, which is coping with a surge in demand for assistance these days.
The pantry serves families within the Granville School District, including the Vermont towns of Wells and West Pawlet, Holland said, providing five-day emergency baskets for those who sign up.
And that sign-up list is growing.
Without the help of private donations and those from area service organizations and clubs to augment the federal and state help, Holland said she’s not sure what the shelves would look like after the surge in demand.
As the economy has slowed, many find themselves out of work or working fewer hours, and the number and size of families looking for help had increased dramatically, she said.
“When we picked up 4,000 pounds of food in early February we thought we’d be good until April, but we’re going again Monday to pick up another 2,000 pounds,” Holland said Friday.
Pointing to empty shelf space that once housed canned fruit, she said: “There was a time when we couldn’t get anything else on the shelves and now, I could lay down on some.”.
Holland is far from the laying-down-on-the-job type, though, as she cruises around the food pantry putting away the last few items from a recent donation.
Donations from the community continue to be generous in both finance and food, but demand has been growing.
“The demand has been increasing no doubt about it,” she said.
As she walked past the shelves she gestured to either side of the aisles and noted the items the pantry lacked.
Mayonnaise, canned fruit, pork and beans, pasta, boxed cereal, canned soup, tuna fish, peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti sauce, all items that bulge from the shelves after a stocking trip, are sparse or not there at all.
A 14-plus year volunteer at the food pantry, operated from the basement of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on Bulkley Avenue, Holland said she sees more people with larger families making use of the service.
Typically a holiday season might strain the stores of the food pantry or a long, cold winter with high heating bills, but not this year – it’s the economy. “Winter’s usually worse, people have to pay bills,” Holland said. “But I always tell people ‘You have to remember that hunger is 12 months a year’,” she said.
To help out those in need between paychecks, the pantry provides food boxes, she said.
Holland said the short form customers fill out helps them verify they come from within the pantry’s coverage area and more importantly, who is in the family and how many of them there are.
Federal and state guidelines determine who receives the monthly help, Holland said, and “many local people are eligible without even knowing it,” she said.
Income levels set by the government are based on annual income and range from $18,131 for a household of one up to $62,160 maximum annual income for a family of eight.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” Holland said.
Holland said after a family member fills out an application, someone comes in once a month to receive the five-day basket with staple items like canned fruit, tuna fish, pasta and peanut butter.
During the harvest months, Holland said, Father Tom Zelker arranges to bring in fresh produce from local farmers and even encourages parishioners to grow small gardens to help out.
Holland said the pantry gets help from the Albany Food Bank, but can always use more. From month to month, the food the pantry receives in canned goods and other food stuffs manages to stretch under typical demands – those demands are not so typical now.
Bridging the gap between the government assistance the pantry receives are the donations made by local groups such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Post Office.
The pantry also needs volunteers, but they’re hard to find because the time they are typically needed is right in the middle of the workday to help move food at pick-up or onto the shelves of the pantry.
“I feel good about being able to do it,” she said of the volunteer work she performs with her husband Harry, called Moe. “God’s been good to us and we want to share some of that wealth and help out in any way we can.”
The pair say they enjoy working at the pantry because it’s a way of paying back all of the good things that have happened to them over their lives. They are helped by Doug Socha, Donna Johnson, Mary Flemming, Ed Lobo and Matt Calvin.
The pantry could also use help stocking shelves and moving food, setting up the baskets and handing them out. Area churches take up a good part of the stocking and basket-organizing duties, Holland said.
“All of the area churches take a month when they are responsible for making up and handing out the baskets,” she said. Those churches also collect items for the pantry.
Holland said anyone interested in contributing a financial donation or dropping off food can bring it right to the rectory at St. Mary’s. Checks can be mailed to the Granville Food Pantry or the Granville Area Ecumenical Council, specifically earmarked for the pantry.
The rectory on bulkley Avenue is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Calling ahead is the best thing to do if your organization had conducted a food drive. This will ensure someone is there to receive the food.
Holland said she hesitates to talk about how generous the community is for fear that those who do help out will think someone else is doing it and stop, but she’s pretty sure that won’t happen.
“It’s really been fantastic,” she said. “It seems like when times are bad, they’ve been really good.”