Local food banks are struggling to provide for their communities this winter as more residents are forced to pick between paying bills or buying food while trying to balance any holiday spending.
While many people welcome the start of winter as the gateway to the holidays, officials at local food pantries said the cold weather, its associated heating bills and increased food costs can make life harder for others, especially if the economy has sapped their finances.
At the Calvary Food Pantry in Auburn, Director Nancy Sheffield said she serves between 300 and 350 families a month, a 25 percent increase in foot traffic compared with previous years. At the same time, the pantry is struggling to keep donations coming in from the public in order to feed those in need.
“Donations are very important for keeping our shelves stocked, especially with the cost of food,” Sheffield said. “Donations right now are good, but they are down slightly ... We’ve had more fundraisers to counter that. We’re doing rummage sales, bake sales, whatever we can do to raise money — anything to bring donations to us.”
Local pantries are constantly looking to stock their shelves with staple foods such as peanut butter, canned fruits and vegetables, pastas and other non-perishable goods, but have expanded their inventory to include toiletries.
Connie Briglin, a coordinator with her husband, Veryo, at the Cato Christian Food Pantry said items such as toilet paper, soaps and shaving supplies are essential for residents attempting to present a clean-cut image while searching for a job, but those often get cut from shopping lists when budgets run dry.
“These are items that are not covered by food stamps that people still need,” Briglin said.
While the holiday season traditionally brings more traffic to pantries due to increased heating bills, food prices and people attempting to find a way to set money aside for the holidays, many food banks are facing a new trend — an increase in senior citizens looking for help.
In many cases, widows or widowers who recently lost a spouse are the ones coming in, Briglin said.
“These are people who might be losing half their income suddenly and are trying to keep their house, pay their bills and buy food,” Briglin said.
Overall though, Briglin said people seeking assistance at her pantry has increased by about 25 percent compared with last year.
Regionally, the same trends have been seen throughout central New York’s 273 emergency food pantries, though not necessarily on the same scale.
Kathleen Stress, the chief operating officer for the Food Bank of Central New York, said demand in her 11-county region has increased 2 percent in the past year, but added the increase is greater in rural communities.
Adding to the increase is a change in demographics among people seeking assistance.
“The face of poverty is changing,” Stress said. “We are seeing more moderate to low income families and military personnel. The demographic has shifted due to a lose of jobs. People are losing their jobs, jobs are leaving the state, and with the jobs is a loss of resources.”
Stress added that monetary and food donation levels have increased, and attributed that to increased awareness among the public.
In cases where pantries do not have enough resources, many work together and refer families to neighboring facilities. Cato’s food pantry often gives assistance to those coming from the smaller neighboring rural pantries and Calvary assists others near Auburn as well.
“Pantries are always struggling, we’re always in need,” Sheffield said. “We’re still going, we’re putting in a lot more effort, and so far we haven’t had to turn anyone away.”
Staff writer Nate Robson can be reached at 282-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow him on Twitter at CitizenRobson.
Do you need food?
Cayuga County's food pantries are there to provide hope, in the form of food, to the hungry people in our community — regardless of circumstances. If you need food, contact the pantry that serves your geographic area:
• Auburn (northeast area and Olympia Terrace): Calvary Food Pantry, 90 Franklin St., 252-7772.
• Auburn (northwest area and Brogan Manor): First Love Ministries, 151 Wall St., 252-4164.
• Auburn (southeast area and Melone Village): St. Alphonsus Food Pantry, 85 E. Genesee St., 252-0710.
• Auburn (downtown, southwest area and Oak Creek): The Salvation Army, 18 E. Genesee St, 253-0319.
• Auburn (senior citizen housing and homebound): Community Caring, 151 Wall St., 253-3437.
• Cato: Cato Christian Food Pantry, 2570 E. Main St., Cato, 626-2734.
• Fair Haven: Community Church Food Cupboard, Richmond Avenue, 947-6233.
• Genoa: Genoa Food Pantry, United Church of Genoa, 10070 Route 90, (607) 533-0093
• King Ferry: King Ferry Food Pantry, Our Lady of the Lake Church, 8703 Route 90, 497-2049
• Locke/Moravia: Community Food Pantry, Loc-Mor Thrift Store, Route 38, 497-0977 (Moravia), 497-1874(Locke).
• Port Byron: Port Byron Community Food Pantry, First United Methodist Church, 8510 South St., 776-5156.
• Throop: Throopsville Community Church Reach-out, 2026 Turnpike Road, 253-7850.
• Union Springs: Western Cayuga County Food Pantry, Trinity United Church, North Cayuga and Chapel streets, 889-7302.
• Weedsport: Brutus-Sennett Food Pantry, First Baptist Church, 30
Liberty St., 834-6581.
• Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency serves all Cayuga County residents, Clark Street and Brookfield Place, Auburn, 252-0038.