Local food pantries busier during cold months

I t’s a common scenario: an elderly woman is living alone on a low, fixed social-security income, and life circumstances have not allowed for any substantial savings.

As winter approaches and heating costs inevitably rise, this person is forced to make spending cuts somewhere. Fortunately for locals, there are options that prevent them from skimping on food.

An 84-year-old Granville resident, who asked to remain anonymous, has been taking advantage of the Mettowee Valley Ecumenical Council (MVEC) Food Pantry for about three years. The situation described above has left her few other choices.

“The pantry makes things much more comfortable for me; I’d probably be hungry if I didn’t go there,” she said. And she isn’t alone — the pantry serves more than 60 families each month.

Area food shelves are filling an active need year round and especially during the colder months. While some are keeping up with demand, others are desperate for help.

Syndy Anoe, director of the MVEC pantry, has lately seen an increase in demand but is not worried by it.

“This time of year it’s definitely higher with the heating season upon us and the holiday season upon us, but our food supply has remained constant,” Anoe said. Among her clients she sees the unemployed, the underemployed, those who were laid off, single parents and seniors.

In nearby Wells, Vt., where 30-35 families use Our Neighbor’s Table food bank up to twice each month, the situation is similar, but the shelf needs help.

“We live in an area with no jobs, the school has over 50 percent eligible for free or reduced lunches and a lot of the seniors here are on a tight budget,” Director Michelle Bates said. The size of her cupboard has recently doubled; after 11 months of twice-monthly operation, the shelf is now open every week and is going through a lot more food.

“I hope people give money, I hope people give food and I hope people come in and use the food shelf,” she said.

The Whitehall Food Pantry, which serves Whitehall, Dresden, Comstock, Low Hampton and a few families in Fort Ann has been forced to limit families to one visit every five weeks because of high demand.

Director Mark Koeble said the pantry sees anywhere from a dozen to two dozen families each week.

“We’re staying busy but the big thing is the food isn’t coming in the way it was. It’s tough because with the economy the people don’t have the money to donate,” Koeble said.

The Poultney, Vt., food bank, meanwhile, serves between 50 and 60 families each month, said Joan Donaghy, vice chair and secretary. Though numbers are up from last year and she sees new clients come in regularly, Donaghy said community generosity has kept things afloat.

“Everyone rallies around the need here; somebody’s always giving us something,” she said.

Julie Austin, executive director of Fair Haven Concerned, feels the same.

“We have a higher number of people, but donations are pretty good. We’re able to meet the need right now,” Austin said. She added that her organization is more than just a food shelf; it also helps locals with fuel, rent, and utility costs.

“Our goal is to prevent homelessness,” Austin said.

Anoe said food comes from many different sources, including people dropping donations at churches, organizations such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the American Legion contributing collected items, the regional food bank, which allows her to stretch funds, and many more.

“I find Granville to be a very generous, giving community,” Anoe said.

Another Granville resident on a fixed income, Sylvia McCullen, said she gets food stamps, but that they aren’t enough. She, too, has been getting food from the MVEC shelf for about 3 or 4 years, but acknowledges that she was initially reluctant to go.

“I didn’t want to admit that I needed the help, but I look at it like this, if I need the help, I’m going to get it,” McCullen said, adding that she gets quite a variety of food and is well-pleased with the pantry.

“They are very pleasant and willing to help, and that’s all that matters,” she said.

The 84-year-old woman agrees.

“Those people are great — they give their time when everybody is busy in this day and age,” she said. “I didn’t want people to think I need to be begging for food, but they don’t make you feel that way.”

Those sentiments exemplify Anoe’s goal.

“That’s what we’re here for; hard times hit all in this economy,” Anoe said.

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