Dollars and sense: Catholic Charities takes on food insecurity program in Utica

Catholic Charities of Oneida/Madison Counties is now offering the Food $en$e program. Pictured above are Catholic Charities’ Food $en$e site coordinator and community outreach manager Connie Marcus, Facilities Manager Jim Smith, and Administrative Assistant Adel Cortes. (Photo provided)

By Dyann Nashton | Contributing writer

UTICA — Catholic Charities has long been known as an agency that provides an array of services to families in need. But sometimes it steps in to take over when other entities are unable to continue to provide a valuable service to the community.

Such was the case when Catholic Charities of Oneida/Madison Counties in Utica stepped in to ensure the Food $en$e cooperative could continue to provide a cost-effective, nutritious way of putting food on people’s tables.

Vicki Paolozzi, Catholic Charities development director, said, “We have recognized that having healthy, affordable food options is a big need for many in our community and this program aligns with our mission to serve those most in need.”

Previously offered through Holy Trinity Church, Catholic Charities began hosting the program this summer when the church could no longer continue to do so. Food $en$e is a program through the Food Bank of Central New York that uses the power of bulk purchasing to offer an affordable way to buy food. Catholic Charities is the only Food $en$e site in the Utica area.

Connie Marcus is the Food $en$e site coordinator and the community outreach manager for Utica’s Catholic Charities office. She said the term “food insecurity” has come into use nationwide through research and media reports in the last several years. “It’s about the number of households in an area where residents can’t make it through a month without some sort of assistance,” she described.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a “lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.” While hunger is more the physical sensation, food insecurity is an access issue due to a lack of financial resources. It is one of many overlapping issues, such as housing, that affects those in need in our communities. According to the Food Bank of Central New York, there are 181,080 people who are food insecure in its service area of Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego, and St. Lawrence Counties.

“It can affect many people in different situations,” Marcus said, “like those with a low income, on a fixed income or temporarily out of work. Food insecurity,” she described, “can be something faced month to month. Sometimes people are trying to choose whether to buy food or pay for their prescriptions.”

Via the Food $en$e program, anyone can pick up a box of food for only $20.50. The food is available by pre-ordering monthly. Pick up is between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. on the fourth Friday of the month. A typical box or unit contains four to five types of meats, four to five staple items, and two fresh/seasonal items. In addition, there are specials that can be purchased separately or in addition to a box of food.

A recent box this summer contained pork tenderloins, chicken tenders, ground beef, tilapia, hot dogs, tuna, fresh potato salad, pork and beans, frozen corn, frozen blackberries, and two fresh produce items. The specials included beef sandwich steaks, chicken breasts, sweet sausage, turkey burgers, onion rings and shrimp. Cash or EBT/Food Stamps are accepted.

The program is available to anyone interested in stretching their food dollars. Marcus said purchasing more than one box can be helpful for larger families. She also noted that even Catholic Charities staff members are taking advantage of the savings in grocery dollars by purchasing Food $en$e boxes for their families, too.

Anyone can take advantage of the Food $en$e program and those who are do not have a low income or use food stamps are encouraged to purchase food boxes to help to offset the costs and continue to make this a low-cost and viable option for those who need it.

The staff has also embraced the program by volunteering their time for food distribution. Marcus said, “We have a two-hour window to make the distribution process happen once the truck gets here.” The team jumps into action to unload the food when it arrives at the Genesee Street building. Then they separate, repackage, distribute and take orders for the next month. “Some clients have even offered to come back and help with distribution for the following month,” she added.

The new site is suited to the program, said Marcus. The building’s auditorium provides ample space for sorting and distribution. Parking is available and there are no stairs to climb, she noted. If needed, staff can help carry food boxes for customers.

Catholic Charities Executive Director Denise Cavanaugh said, “I am thrilled that we are able to pick up this program, in close proximity to where it was being offered before, hoping this is convenient to those who wish to take advantage of it. Food $en$e is a great program and fits perfectly within our community assistance umbrella. We are hoping to expand the program and serve more and more individuals with an affordable, healthy package of food.”

Information about Food $en$e sites throughout the diocese, ordering and pick up information, listings of upcoming box contents and specials, and even recipes can be found by visiting www.foodbankcny.org and clicking the “Our Programs” drop-down menu. For information specific to the Utica site, call (315) 724-2158.