Holiday spirit may be gone, but hunger remains year-round, food pantry coordinators say

PLATTSBURGH The act of giving out of shear holiday spirit is not uncommon from Thanksgiving to New Years Day, but one organization wants people to know it could use their help year-round. Dorothy Crawford, coordinator for the Interfaith Food Shelf, was busy Monday morning signing in patrons of the food shelf and organizing donations less a week after the holiday rush the shelf sees year after year. This past year was really terrific, Ms. Crawford said, reflecting on the donations the food shelf received during the holiday season. Donations of nonperishables from food drives at schools, grocery stores and from civic organizations across Clinton County, paired with monetary donations from organizations like Eye Care for the Adirondacks in Plattsburgh which raised more than $17,000 through an auction and soliciting donations have made Ms. Crawford and her fellow volunteers very grateful. The sad truth, however, is the food shelf and other organizations like it, are not out of the woods yet. In fact, with the issue of hunger, there is no out of the woods. Theres a long stretch between January and October, November, December, said Ms. Crawford. With fuel bills coming in now this time of year and medical issues people have to take care of, this is a hard time for families on limited incomes. Were talking about a lot of people. While it has become an increasingly collective conscious effort for many to donate during the holidays, many times people forget the less fortunate are hungry throughout the rest of the year, said Ms. Crawford. The weeks and months immediately following Christmas and New Years tend to be the worst lull in donations the food shelf sees, she said, making this time of year, in particular, a very important time for people to continue to donate. On an average month, the food shelf can spend anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 for food to support people from Ausable to Altona, from Peru to Champlain, and all points within Clinton County between, said Ms. Crawford. The food shelf depends on donations as its main staple to donate back to those in need. What it lacks, it makes up for in purchasing from the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in the downstate hamlet of Latham. The food shelf is one of a limited group of qualified organizations able to purchase food at the food bank at a cost of 14 cents per pound a significant savings over purchasing from a grocery store directly. While many think they cant utilize the food shelf because they dont qualify because of their income, for those who wish to seek assistance from the Interfaith Food Shelf, the organization operates on an honor system, said Ms. Crawford. Its as simple as filling out a form with your name, address, the number of people in your household including children, and answering whether or not you receive any form of public assistance, she said. The only proof a person needs to bring is a photo ID such as a drivers license. They dont have to bring any information about their income or copies of their bills, because we are a faith-based community project, said Ms. Crawford. People are allowed to receive assistance from the food shelf up to six times per year, though Ms. Crawford said the food shelf does make exceptions for extenuating circumstances such. If a person finds him or herself suddenly unemployed or on disability that can be taken into account, she said. After that, there are U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity items which may be obtained once a month to help those still in need. Its not a lot, but its something, said Ms. Crawford. And, we always have bread products people can help themselves to, we have potatoes donated by the Lions Club, and some other odd items we may only have one of from a food drive. Another item on the Interfaith Food Shelfs wish list is something you wont find on supermarket shelves volunteers. From greeting patrons to handling paperwork and stocking the shelves, volunteers are always needed, said Ms. Crawford. We have over 100 volunteers, but it takes a lot of community involvement, Ms. Crawford said. The issue is something being felt in other pantries as well, such as outreach centers operated by the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity of Clinton and Franklin Counties. Ellen Montgomery, who runs the JCEO outreach center in Altona, said she agrees this year will likely be tough for many on fixed incomes. Im sure the need is going to pick up with fuel prices going up, said Ms. Montgomery. Some people have to decide to heat or eat. I think were going to see an increase this year. Everybodys in a giving mood at Christmas, but then comes January, February and March, Ms. Montgomery added. The Altona outreach center, which is one of several operated throughout the county by the JCEO, is keeping up with demand so far, said Ms. Montgomery, but it too relies on donations from the community. Its very important, Ms. Montgomery said of support the center receives. Monetary donations to the Interfaith Food Shelf and the JCEO outreach centers are tax-deductible. Donations for the food shelf may be mailed in care of the Interfaith Food Shelf, to the Plattsburgh United Methodist Church, 127 Beekman St., Plattsburgh N.Y. 12901. Donations for the JCEO may be mailed to its main office at 54 Margaret St., also in Plattsburgh, or to the respective JCEO outreach centers. Those interested in donating to or volunteering for the Interfaith Food Shelf may also contact Ms. Crawford at the church at 562-3663, or at home at 561-7167. JCEO outreach centers may be reached by contacting the JCEO main office at 561-6310. The Altona JCEO outreach center operates Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with other JCEO centers operating at varying hours. The Interfaith Food Shelf is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., with the exception of holidays. Though the Interfaith Food Shelf is located in Plattsburgh, Ms. Crawford, reiterates the food shelf is open to everyone in need within Clinton County.

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