Marilyn Richardson, manager of the Saugerties Area Council of Churches Food Pantry for 19 years, says that they’re doing all they can to keep going in economically-tough times, but it’s not easy. “The need for food assistance is exploding, but donations are down, because many people who used to give are now struggling themselves,” she says. “I’m concerned. I’m very, very concerned.”
And more people than ever are applying for help.
“In 2011, we gave out 3,913 bags of food – that was for the entire twelve months of the year. So far, this year, with months still to go, we’ve given out 3,076 bags already,” says Richardson.
Ninety-eight percent of the food they provide, she says, is purchased from the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, a nonprofit organization in Latham that buys surplus food and collects donations from the food industry to sell at wholesale prices to food pantries, who then distribute it to those in need. Every year, the Regional Food Bank allocates over 25 million pounds of food to over 1,000 different agencies in 23 counties of New York State.
Richardson places an order with the food bank every month. It gets shipped from Latham by truck to a parking lot in the Kingston Plaza, where five or six volunteers pick it up (in their own pickup trucks, she says), and bring it to the food pantry in Saugerties. “Nobody gets paid,” says Richardson. “None of our 60 volunteers do, and I don’t get paid, either.”
The Saugerties Area Council of Churches Food Pantry ordered over 44,000 pounds of food from the Regional Food Bank last year. “The average cost per year we spend at the Latham food bank is over $30,000,” Richardson says.
State grants and grant partners like Markertek, Shop Rite and the Ulster County Sheriff’s Association offset half the cost, but the other half has to come from donations made by local businesses, individuals and schools.
In addition to those contributions, the pantry relies on monthly donations from each church within the Saugerties Area Council of Churches. The Boy Scouts also provide thousands of food items to the pantry each November during their annual Scouting for Food drive, and there is an annual Post Office Food Drive each May.
“We feed up to 500 men, women and children every month,” says Richardson, “and we rely on donations to do it.”
Once a year, Richardson applies to the government for a food grant and a rent grant. The food grant used to cover about $10,000 of food costs, she says, but now it averages closer to $7,000. “It’s not that the government is giving less money,” says Richardson, “but that more food pantries have opened up, so the money has to go further.”
The rent grant from the government covers about $1,500 of rent costs for the pantry per year. “That’s good,” Richardson says, but still leaves a lot of rent payments to be covered, and expenses to be paid. “I might have bills to pay for the pantry of $1,500 in a month, but only have $300 in donations received,” she says. “We have so many people coming in for help, but donations have totally crashed.”
The Food Pantry is open to any resident of the Saugerties area , says Richardson. “It used to be mostly people on Medicaid and Medicare, but now we have people with full-time jobs who come in crying, because they’ve lost their homes and have never been to a food pantry before.”
Hunger may seem like an abstract problem of far-off countries, she says, but it’s a very real problem in both our country and in our community.
The Saugerties Area Council of Churches Food Pantry has been in operation since the mid 1970s. One of the most significant changes made in recent years was adding one evening each week to the pantry’s operating hours, making the pantry more accessible to working families. The Food Pantry is open Monday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon on each of those days, and on Tuesdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Donations of food items may be dropped off at 44 Livingston St. during those hours.
Monetary donations should be mailed to the pantry’s post office box, not to the physical address on Livingston St. To make a monetary donation, send a check made out to Saugerties Area Council of Churches Food Pantry (noting “food pantry” on the memo line) to PO Box 723, Saugerties, NY 12477. For more information, visit saugertiesfoodpantry.sawyervision.org, or call 246-6885.