B y Derek Liebig
An increase in the demand for non-perishable food items and a decrease in donations have left the shelves of the Whitehall Ecumenical Food Pantry as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.
Mark Koeble, executive director of the food pantry, has seen lean times during his eight years running the food pantry, particularly last summer, but said the shelves are as about barren as he can recall.
“This is probably the lowest it’s been. It’s never been that low on that side,” pointing to the west wall of the pantry where an entire set of shelves sat completely devoid of food.
“I know times are tough and people don’t have extra to give, but we’re really starting to feel the pinch.”
Housed within two small closets in the basement of the Whitehall United Methodist Church on Greenmount Cemetery Lane, the Food Pantry serves residents from Whitehall, Clemons, Dresden, Comstock, and Hampton.
On average, anywhere from 30 to 45 families depend on the food pantry every month to help supplement their nutritional needs, but that number has crept up to nearly 60 in the last few months, while donations have remained stagnant, if not outright declined.
“People are desperate for help. There’s been more people moving into the area looking for cheaper rent and that’s increased the number of people who are counting on the pantry for help,” Koeble said.
The increase in demand has greatly depleted reserves. Other than a few dozen cans of corn and a healthy stash of peanut butter, the spare closet that serves as a storage space for extra food was empty Wednesday morning. And the situation was worse the following day after the weekly allotment of food was handed out to those in need.
“If we stay busy I could run out of money to buy things,” Koeble said. “Funding is very low.”
He said he may be forced to eliminate the purchase of some products, like hamburger, and has already been forced to cut back on the quantity of food he gives each family.
“We’ve been trying to stretch our supplies as far as they can go. If worst comes to worst they’ll have to get whatever I’m heavy on.”
The problem hasn‘t been isolated to the Whitehall pantry alone.
Koeble said other food pantries in the area have been hurting as well, illustrating the effects of a depressed economy and still high unemployment rate.
“I’ve spoke with the woman from Saratoga and they are hurting for donations too.”
Koeble said he receives milk, eggs and vegetables from a handful of local businesses and residents but what he really needs is money to purchase more food and canned products.
He said he’s tried different fundraisers in the past, with mixed results. The best source of food still comes from everyday donations, when he can get them.
“We’ll take any non-perishable item. We’re always looking for cereal and canned vegetables and I’ll even take margarine, paper towels and laundry detergent.”
The pantry is open every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and donations can be dropped during that time or folks can call the pantry at 499-2039 to arrange a time to drop items off.
“People really appreciate what I give them, when I have it.”