A Merry Christmas and a hungry New Year

Catholic Charities food pantries need donations throughout and beyond the holidays

By Jennika Baines
SUN Assoc. Editor

The bounty of food and gifts that marks the holiday season often nudges people to think of — and merrychristmasperhaps give to — those who go without. But the twists of fate and fortune that push a family to line up at a food pantry happen all year round.

Unfortunately, the need doesn’t end when the leftovers start.
Catholic Charities has food pantries in each county of the diocese, and many of these pantries are seeing a significant rise in numbers.

“So many people come in here defeated,” said D’Ann Stickels, emergency assistance coordinator for Cortland County Catholic Charities. “Some are homeless, some are a husband and wife who were working in a factory and they both got laid off.”

Stickels stresses the need to respect the dignity of the people she helps. The Catholic Charities emergency assistance building is tucked among banks and office buildings on Church Street in Cortland, and the experience of those who come here is remarkably like a visit to any other office.

People who show up are asked to sign in, check off the type of assistance they’re seeking (food pantry, fresh bread pick-up, diapers and formula or help filling prescriptions) and take a seat. Stickels escorts the next in line into her office, enters or updates some information in her computer, and asks what, if anything, she can do to help.

This, for Stickels, is the good part. She started working here in September, and she said the job is a perfect fit. “I love it. Every day’s different and I just love seeing people get help.”

There’s a person there who can help enroll people in Fidelis and someone to screen people for Medicare. There’s a prescription program that can help those who can’t afford their pills, and people can use the phone if they need to figure out some of their health-care issues. There’s also a program that identifies and helps those who are in immediate risk of homelessness. The Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program can provide rent and utility payments; it can cover moving costs and even provides motel vouchers for people who qualify.

Then clients walk down the hall and can choose their own food for the next three days. There are shelves of canned fruit, cereals, pastas, and there’s even a freezer for margarine, cheese, milk, eggs and meat — a rare feature for food pantries. People can come to the food pantry once per calendar month, though they are welcome to return weekly for fresh bread that’s donated by a local grocery store.

Starting next week, the pantry will be reorganized according to USDA food pyramid guidelines to ensure that those who come are getting the right nutritional balance.

“Even though I mostly can just fill their belly, I can give them hope and at least a smile and hopefully help them feel better,” Stickels said.

The pantry is in need of nonperishable food items, toiletries and hygiene supplies. “When people are doing food drives sometimes they just don’t think to throw in a box of toilet paper,” Stickels said.

Donations can be brought to the Cortland County Catholic Charities, 24 Church Street, from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. The pantry can be reached at (607) 299-0029.
Below is information on ways to give to Catholic Charities food pantries throughout the diocese.

Broome County:

There are two Catholic Charities food pantries in Broome County, and Kathy Pfaffenbach said there’s never a slow moment in her Binghamton pantry. “You can’t even walk in the door here right now,” she said.

So far this year they’ve helped 31,203 people, giving each a five-day supply of food. For the month of October alone, 3,480 people were served. “And that’s typical,” Pfaffenbach said.

For the Thanksgiving basket sign-up, Pfaffenbach said the figures were about the same as last year, but the surprising figure was the number of new families. “We’ve never seen that many new people,” she said.

Pfaffenbach said the pantries need nonperishable food items like boxed stuffing and canned vegetables and fruit. “Tuna fish is too expensive for me to buy,” she said.

There’s also a real need for toiletries like shampoo, soap and deodorant because they can’t be purchased with food stamps. “Toilet paper, that’s gold to us,” she said. “We have to make a decision: do we buy that or do we buy food?”

She said there’s also a constant need for women’s sanitary products. It’s heartbreaking to have to turn a teenaged girl away after she’s plucked up the courage to approach someone for help, Pfaffenbach said. “Whenever a girl asks, ‘Can I talk to you?’ you know that’s what it’s about,” she said.

Still, she said she gets an enormous amount of satisfaction from her job. “The day goes by very fast, and when you close the door at night you know you’ve really helped somebody,” she said.

The Binghamton food pantry is located at 100 Main Street. Its hours are 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays. The Binghamton pantry can be reached at (607) 723-4563.

Mother Teresa’s Cupboard, 202 Garfield Ave. in Endicott, is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mother Teresa’s Cupboard can be reached at (607) 741-0011.

Chenango County:

Melinda Mandeville, director of the Roots & Wings Emergency Service in Chenango County said she has seen first-hand the impact of the economic down-turn. “Our numbers are increasing monthly with the economy being the way it is,” Mandeville said.

The pantry serves an average of 420 households a month, and has distributed food to 3,948 families so far this year. Mandeville said that’s up about 25 percent.

“What we have found is that people want to give,” Mandeville said, “but they don’t always know how to give.”

Mandeville said the pantry needs non-perishable items like canned soups, vegetables and fruit, boxed dinners like macaroni and cheese, Tuna Helper or Rice-a-Roni, canned juices, pasta sauces, peanut butter and jelly.

She said the pantry also goes quickly through donated diapers, hygiene products and toilet paper. Donations of household items are welcome, too. “Dishes, pots and pans, those things go quickly,” Mandeville said. Blankets, coats and clothing in good condition are always needed as well.

The pantry is putting together Christmas baskets, and is looking for donations of nonperishable foods and boxed desserts. Donations need to be received by Friday, Dec. 18 in order to be put in the Christmas baskets.

The Catholic Charities food pantry in Chenango County is located at 34-36 Berry Street in Norwich. The pantry is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., though the main office is open to receive donations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The pantry can be reached at (607) 336-7897.

Oneida/Madison Counties:

“We have definitely seen our numbers increase,” said Connie Marcus, program manager for the family and community support division. She said she has seen the numbers at the Rome pantry more than double in the past year or so. Although the emergency services office in Utica operates through referrals to other organizations, she said they have seen more people come to Rome’s food pantry than they have come to Utica for referrals. “In Rome we’re averaging around 70 households a month,” she said.

“There are a lot of low-income folks who do rely on that little bit of extra food a month to help their food stamps stretch,” she said.

The pantry in Rome needs donations of canned meats, pasta, cereals, canned vegetables and fruit and personal hygiene items. “Diapers are always in high demand,” she said.

The Rome pantry also takes donations of clothes as long as they are in season. Marcus said they simply don’t have the space to store summer clothes now, but they do have some space for a weekly “Clothing Closet” where people can find free sweaters, coats and other warm clothes.

Rather than Christmas baskets, Marcus said they provide vouchers to families so they can shop at their local grocery store. “That way the family can pick the food they would like for their Christmas dinner,” Marcus said. “I’d hate to see anything go to waste just because somebody doesn’t like that particular food.”

The pantry also provides toys for children up to the age of 12. Parents are able to come in and choose from toys which are sorted based on the sex and age of the children. In particular, Marcus said, donations of toys like baby dolls, games, trucks and craft kits are welcome. Donations of toys need to be received by Friday, Dec. 18.

The Rome pantry is located at 212 West Liberty St., and its hours of operation are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The pantry can be reached at (315) 337-8600 ext. 210.

Onondaga County:

Onondaga County has five neighborhood centers that provide emergency provisions for people who live in the neighborhood around each center. The five neighborhood centers are the Bishop Foery Foundation, 100 Edmund Ave.; the Northside CYO, 527 N. Salina St.; Vincent House, 514 Seymour St.; Hawley Youth Organization, 716 Hawley Ave.; Parkside Commons, 201-203 Westmoreland Ave. and Elderly Services, 2826 Le Moyne Ave. in Mattydale.

While these centers welcome donations of food, they are often more informal pantries, said Toni Maxwell, associate director of Onondaga County Catholic Charities. The centers may not have particular hours in which they operate a food pantry or the space to store larger quantities of food, she said.

But Rick Kline, director of Parkside Commons, said donations are always welcome. “We‘re always struggling to keep food on the shelves,” Kline said. Each unit at the Parkside complex receives Section-8 housing assistance. “A lot of people who move into the apartments there really move in with nothing,” Kline said.

In particular, the center needs nonperishable food, particularly beef soups and stews, rice and macaroni. They also welcome donations of clothing, blankets, toiletries and household goods like pots and pans, silverware and plates. Kline said those wishing to drop off donations can call the center ahead of time and arrange to be met in the center’s parking lot. They can be reached from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at (315) 422-1301.

Larry King, director of the Bishop Foery Foundation, said donations of non-perishable food items, toiletries and paper products are always welcome. There isn’t room to storehousehold goods, he said. Donations can be dropped of at the Bishop Foery Foundation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They can be reached at (315) 475-8316.

Maxwell said she urges people to give to the Cathedral Pantry as well. Although the pantry receives the bulk of its funding from the Cathedral parish and not from Catholic Charities, there are two employees who work there and are paid through Catholic Charities.

Peter Parrillo, director of the Cathedral’s Emergency Services, said his pantry plans to feed between 350 and 400 families for Thanksgiving this year. But he said he receives a lot of help from local businesses and organizations. Lockheed Martin sent over turkeys and food, there was an anonymous donation of $5,000 just the other day, and he said he had just received a phone call from the women of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians promising to cook — and deliver — 150 Thanksgiving dinners to those in need.

Parillo also said that throughout the year the pantry needs canned meats like stews, chillis and pop-top cans of soup that can be given to people who live on the streets. He said there is also a need for toiletries and paper items.

“People who are on food stamps can’t buy things like toothpaste, a toothbrush, toilet paper, shampoo, deodarant,” he said. “These are real luxury items to the poor.”

Cathedral Emergency Services is located at 264 E. Onondaga St., across from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception’s prayer garden. Its hours are 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The pantry can be reached at (315) 424-1876.

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