Summertime has not treated Family of New Paltz very well. If anything, the charity has seen a drought of sorts. With school-age children out of the classroom and therefore away from free lunches, cash-strapped families have turned to the food pantry with increased demand.
Donors who usually provide a steady stream of groceries and foodstuffs to the pantry have gone on vacation. According to Kathy Cartagena, Family of New Paltz’s director, demand for food this summer has “gone up tremendously.”
One key lack is non-perishable items containing protein. Family of New Paltz staff is still looking for anyone who can give peanut butter jars or tuna cans to the pantry. Protein is needed because of the greater demand those children are placing on the pantry.
“The thing with the peanut butter — we know kids will have peanut butter sandwiches,” Cartagena explained. “Some kids, like if they’re allergic to peanut butter, hopefully they’ll eat tuna.”
According to Icilma Louis, also of Family, there used to be only about 200 families who routinely relied on the pantry for help. Last year, the number crept up to around 300 — and after the devastation of Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, the numbers swelled to 400 families. It never went down.
Family of New Paltz has only $5,000 left of grant money to buy food with — and that needs to last until June 2013. All the rest they need to bring in through donations of money, food or through fundraising.
According to Cartagena, they’ve been spending up to $1,000 each week to pay for the groceries they need to restock the pantry — and that’s shopping with extreme couponing and looking for sales.
“I’ve been here 20 years. It’s just over the top. I went shopping three times this week,” she said. “We have $5,000 left … Every year, it never changes, the summer is very difficult for us. School is out, so the civic groups are not meeting. People are on vacation.”
Family of New Paltz had a food drive outside of the local grocery stores in New Paltz last week Friday. While those are always surprisingly successful, more work still needs to be done.
Family of New Paltz is looking for those peanut butter jars, tuna cans and donations, but another good idea is to donate gift cards to local stores like Stop & Shop or ShopRite. If you’re unsure what to buy, those gift cards — or a check — are especially helpful because the pantry can buy exactly what it needs.
Those wanting to donate other non-perishable items should also note that the pantry is looking for pasta and rice as well.
People looking to clear out their cupboards at home should take a look at the cans they’d like to donate. If they’re past expiration, those cans will help nobody. Family of New Paltz would be forced to throw those expired foods away.
Cartagena said she appreciated the help that Family of New Paltz usually receives — especially from local businesses who’ve stepped up to fill the void and donate.
“If it weren’t for the local businesses — they support us tremendously,” she said. “The small stores, the mom and pops — if people would just remember that and shop local. They’re the ones who support the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts and everything else. I can’t say enough good things about them. They’re so generous.”
As a charity, the pantry has served people from all over Ulster County and the region — even if they have a pantry closer to home.
“We don’t like to turn anyone away without food. So if someone comes to us and they’re not aware that we only service a certain area of Ulster County … what happens is we still give them a packet,” Louis explained.
The one-time gift of food from New Paltz also comes with instructions for how those out-of-towners can find help in their hometowns. “We try to never turn anyone away without food — at least food for the night,” she said. “And we give them a list of food pantries that are more convenient and closer to the area of their residency.”
In late August, when Family of New Paltz first kicked off this latest food drive initiative, they came before the Town Board to ask for help.
Town Board member Jeff Logan, who has often donated to the charity, said it was very important for New Paltzians to heed the call.
“Kathy Cartagena is a saint. If she comes before the board or the community to explain the needs of those without — then it is time to give,” he said. “The donation can be time, money, food — everything helps and in these times we all need to help each other. We need to succeed as a community together.”
To help Family of New Paltz by offering a donation or just for more information, call 255-8801. Or you can follow them online by searching for their Facebook page.