The hunger game

Local food banks get creative to keep pantries full

Gloversville Senior Center Program Director Ellie DiScioscia places non-perishable items into a box in the kitchen where the food pantry is located at the center on Thursday. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)

GLOVERSVILLE — As winter keeps hanging around in Fulton County, area food banks are seeing a need to fill their shelves to keep those in need fed.

Area food pantries are using a number of different options to try and ensure they have enough food to meet the demand they are seeing in the community.

From social media calls and grants to office-based collections and private donations, there are a variety of ways food pantries are ensuring their shelves stay filled.

Spreading the word

Social media and word of mouth can play a big part of ensuring donations come in when needed.

A photo of the partially empty shelf at the North Main Street United Methodist Church in Gloversville on Friday. Food pantries have had to get creative and use social media as a way to keep the cupboards full and feed those who rely on food banks. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)

The Gloversville Senior Center runs a food pantry for people age 55 and older.

Senior Center Director Ellie DiScioscia said the senior center put out a call earlier this month to help refill their food pantry and the community responded through both traditional methods of flyers to posting on Facebook about the empty shelves inside the pantry.

“We’ve had a really good response from people through Facebook, the radio and our calendar,” DiScioscia said.

She said the Gloversville Fire Department responded to the request by showing up with a $450 donation, some of the money coming from their winning the prize for top chili at the Cabin Fever Chili and Brew Tasting fundraiser on March 25, along with food donations.

The Carter family put a call out to family and friends as well, who brought in a lot of items including cereals. She said and many private individuals brought in donations as well.

Joyce Royal places cans of cat food on a partially empty shelf at the North Main Street United Methodist Church in Gloversville on Friday. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)

“We’ve been very blessed,” DiScioscia said.

She said there has been a jump in the number of seniors seeking help from them. She said she is not certain of the exact reason, since the pantry never asks questions about a person’s reason for visiting.

“It could be because of word of mouth or if they are coming to the area or just having more difficulty,” she said.

She said some clients have told her they have just applied for food stamps and are still awaiting their arrival or are in between monthly allocations and have run out.

DiScioscia said the Senior Center Pantry does see an increase in those seeking assistance around the time of storms. She said that may be due to difficulty for seniors getting to the grocery store either in their own vehicle or getting a ride from someone during times of heavy snow or ice.

From left, Fulton Center Administrator Leonard Hersh, Jack Burns of Johnstown and Fulton Center marketing personnel Kelly Burns place canned items into a box at the center in the town of Johnstown Thursday. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)

DiScioscia said the senior center is looking for easy open and easy to prepare foods. She said items such as macaroni and cheese, canned ravioli, canned vegetables and cereal and breakfast bars.

“A lot of seniors won’t get out pots and pans and make a variety of items,” she said.

In addition, seniors can visit for breakfast on Tuesday or Saturday and for lunch on Wednesday and a monthly dinner.

“We do ask for a donation for those, but we don’t ask questions and we don’t refuse anybody,” she said.

DiScioscia said traditional media plays a part as well, alerting the public to both the food pantry and the meals.

Fulton Center resident Mary Kaye Slusarz wraps cans donated for a food drive at the center in the town of Johnstown Thursday. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)

As for those who use the pantry, DiScioscia said they are thankful to have access to what the center offers.

“They feel very blessed. They are very grateful,” she said. “Anyone who uses the facility is very grateful for it being here.”

Food donations can be brought to the center during its open hours Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. or on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. Special times can also be set up for drop offs.

Monetary donations can be sent to The Gloversville Senior Center at 53 Church St. Gloversville NY, 20178.

Business help

Private companies and other non-profit agencies can play a roll in helping out food pantries.

At The Fulton Center of Center’s Health Care at 847 County Highway 122, a food drive will be going on through April 10 to collect donations of non-perishable foods and hygiene items like soap and toothpaste, that will be donated to the Gloversville Salvation Army.

Center Health Care is a short- and long-term rehabilitation facility that has recently undergone a remodel.

Regional Director William Wohltjen said this is the first food drive the agency has held at its locations in the Adirondack region.

“They are one of the few in the area that have a late night soup kitchen, and we do a lot of stuff with them in general,” he said.

Wohltjen said the center and Salvation Army have a nice relationship, including having children from the afterschool program come during the summer months.

Wohltjen said the agency has been doing a number of different drives in the past few months. He said it began in the winter when they did a toy drive for Toys for Tots and Toys for Boys and Girls. Later on they held a drive for the James A. Brennan Memorial Humane Society.

“We got a very positive reaction from that within the communities we are in. So we decided to keep doing some more drives,” he said.

He said employees were aware that sometimes during this time of year, pantries can get low on food, so they wanted to help that way.

“We decided to hold another drive for [the Salvation Army] so their shelves don’t go bare,” he said.

Wohltjen said the agency would like to see this idea continue into the future and become an annual event.

“We try our hardest to get into the community and be involved with what’s going on,” he said. “It’s definitely in the office future, as other holidays come up where people like to feast where we can go ahead and help those causes.”

Food and hygiene items can be dropped off in a labeled box near the front of the center.

Participating parishioners

Joyce Royal said the food bank at the North Main Street United Methodist Church is mainly funded through parishioners. She said those donations, combined with a small grant, allow the bank to purchase food through the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, which offers savings.

Royal said the Gloversville Housing and Neighborhood Improvement Corps’ Fremont Community Garden on Fremont Street will bring surplus vegetables to the food pantry during the summer.

Royal said in February, the pantry served 120 people, 28 of whom were children and 14 were seniors.

She said the pantry does not turn anyone way and has no criteria that is tied to social service rolls or income level.

Royal said pantry workers also try to help plan meals with the food given out.

“We try helping people make a dinner out of what we are giving them,” she said.

At the North Main Street United Methodist Church, those who walk on four legs can find some help as well. The church offers both cat and dog food in its pantry, along with feminine hygiene products.

Royal said that the church has been awarded a Jazzy Grant through the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York that provides funding for dog food. According to the Regional Food Bank, the idea behind the grant is to keep dogs out of shelters and with their families by ensuring an adequate food supply.

“They gave us a little bit of money and we have stretched it as far as we can. That is an area where our donations are down,” Royal said.

Royal said that in February, the pantry gave food out for 33 dogs and 43 cats.

She said that many who come to the pantry do have pets. She said the church feels that it is important to help with pets, since they offer companionship.

“Dog and cat food can be expensive,” she said.

The James A Brennan Memorial Humane Society operates a pet food bank for seniors.

Royal said the bank is currently running low on cat food however, since it is not covered through private donations and not a grant.

At the church’s pantry, funds for food come through the Regional Food Bank, along with help from church members and the general public.

Royal said the biggest increases in the pantry’s usage comes in the summer, when the weather gets warmer.

The church also serves a lunch during the day, that pantry participants can also use while they wait for their turn on the third Monday of the month. Funds for the free lunch is also funded by the congregation.

Pastor Judith Johnson Siebold said that this year, a number system was instituted to ensure that those were waiting for their turn would not have to stand out in the cold.

Johnson Siebold said the pantry is very much what the church is all about.

“Jesus said I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. Enter into the joy of the creator. That’s what we do. We exist to serve others and to worship,” she said.

Royal said the free lunches are used not only by those in need, but also people who work in the area or those who are looking for an friend.

“They want to be around people and talk to people,” she said. “It’s a mix of people that we get.”

Royal said that the free lunch sees a jump in usage from children in the summer months, when school is out. She said they got a small grant from Stewarts to buy things that kids like to eat such as peanut butter and jelly and hot dogs for these lunches.

Those who want to donate can send a check to North Main Street United Methodist Church at 316 N. Main St., Gloversville NY, 12078. People can reference either the food pantry, pet pantry or free lunch if they want their donation going to a certain program. Cash can be dropped off at the church office.

Kerry Minor can be reached at kminor@leaderherald.com.