A helping hand

WEVERTOWN A recent surge in the need for local food pantry assistance combined with increased economic pressures, has left several area pantries concerned for the future. With the majority of the regions pantries operating under a yearly grant through the Albany Regional Food Bank, more groups are struggling to maintain service in a volatile economic climate. An alarming trend In Wevertown, the food pantry operated by Thersa Dunkley on behalf of the North Country Outreach Center has certainly seen better times. A dramatically increased number of families seeking food assistance has been countered by significantly decreased private support. Over the last few months, weve seen a steady increase in the number of people we assist, Dunkley said. Some of the families are those we havent seen in a long time or they would only come once in a while. Now they are coming pretty regularly. The Outreach Centers primary source of funding is a $6,000 yearly grant through the Albany Regional Food Bank. The pantry must make up the balance through local cash and food donations. The pantry normally services between 70 and 100 families per month on each of its two distribution days. In October this number increased substantially with preliminary estimates showing close to 300 families seeking assistance. Dunkley cites the skyrocketing price of gasoline late this year and a contracting job market for the spike in visits by new families. All I can say is that Im glad we are there to help them, she commented. Stressing that all of their services are confidential, Dunkley is particularly concerned about the volatility of heating fuel and gasoline prices, especially on senior citizens who are living on a fixed income. Community support is the key The North Country Outreach Center has a dozen volunteers who assist with the organizations food pantry. They are also thankful for the support they receive through food drives sponsored by Johnsburg Central School and local scouting organizations. While gasoline prices have eased considerably in the last few weeks, Dunkley is keeping a watchful eye on the Regional Food Banks lobbying efforts and the budget crises that exists at the State and Federal Levels. I know we are okay with our funding for 2009 but in 2010 it might be a much different story, she said. Were always thankful for the support we receive, she added. I try not to look too far ahead in the future because it can look a little scary sometimes. Our big hope is that local people and community businesses will step forward to help us out. If we could get a little more help then I think we will be okay. Pulling together For Debbie Ameden, Director of the Indian Lake Food Pantry, seeing people through hard times is just a reality of life. The Indian Lake Pantry services all of Hamilton County and provides food to approximately 200 people each month. They have also seen an increase in food requests this year. Usually at this time of year we are serving around 100 people so weve effectively doubled in the last year, Ameden said. Paralleling a trend in other areas, the pantry started seeing an increase in late spring and a big jump in September. We are attributing it mainly to the increasing cost of food and especially the fuel prices, she added. What Ive been told is that with people having to travel out of town for work they just can't keep up. Ameden is grateful for the support she receives from Town and County residents, including local businesses, but will continue to monitor the situation as fewer dollars are spread over a wider geographic area. As a whole I think the community has responded to the increased need very well, she said. Were a community that prides itself on taking care of its own. But one thing that I am afraid of is people forgetting that we need help all of the time not just when we ask for it. She is also concerned about the local job market being impacted by the economy as seasonal jobs provide a significant portion of some families yearly income. People want to stay in this area but dont know how long or if they can, she noted. I think people try to do everything they can before they ask for help. If anything, I think we see people who could benefit from the pantry but dont at this point its starting to take a turn. A small pantry making a big difference In Minerva, Francis Paradis serves as the Director of a local food pantry she founded with the school system many years ago. She says Minerva does not appear to be approaching the crisis situation that Johnsburg is facing or the volume of Indian Lakes pantry, but things are certainly changing. We havent hit the same problems that other area pantries have, but I anticipate that we will, Paradis said. Were having more people attend and I can see an increased need. The Minerva Food Pantry serves an average of 50 local families every two weeks. Were starting to see some new faces too especially in the last couple of months, she added. The pantry relies heavily on local church support, the Regional Food Bank, private donations, and local businesses (in particular Sportys Iron Duke Saloon). I dont think were seeing a big increase from fuel prices yet but I do think that people are anticipating having a problem, she noted. People are definitely spending more frugally and trying to save wherever they can. With a strong spirit of community support, Paradis is confident that she will be able to maintain their program for the foreseeable future. Were very grateful for every donation we get, she said. Without them we probably wouldnt be here.

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