Auburn food pantry moves to new location in nearby space - Catholic Courier
A woman wearing a blue shirt packs a box of food items at the St. Alphonsus Food Pantry. Sue Terry packs a box for a guest at the St. Alphonsus Food Pantry Oct. 18 in Auburn. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Auburn food pantry moves to new location in nearby space

The St. Alphonsus Food Pantry opened four decades ago with a mission of feeding the hungry in the Auburn area. And while the food pantry’s physical location has changed several times over the years, its mission has not, according to its coordinator, Sue Norton.

“From the very beginning our goal was, if a person says they’re hungry, we’re going to take care of them,” explained Norton, whose late husband, Charlie Norton, founded the St. Alphonsus Food Pantry 42 years ago.

Auburn’s St. Alphonsus Food Pantry moves into a new location

On Oct. 3, the food pantry reopened in its new home inside a portion of the former St. Joseph School building, located at 89 E. Genesee St.

The food pantry initially opened in the basement of St. Alphonsus’ first rectory, which has since been torn down, said Norton, who began helping her husband run the ministry shortly after its founding.

“You couldn’t stand up straight in the cellar,” she recalled.

After a new rectory was built, the food pantry moved into the basement of that building. There, volunteers and guests could stand upright, but constantly hauling groceries up and down the stairs was not ideal, Norton said. Several parishioners transformed a portion of St. Alphonsus’s garage into a space for the food pantry.

“For quite a while, we were just in one bay. We kept expanding, and eventually we took over the whole thing. It’s a four-car garage,” Norton said.

After three decades, however, the food pantry eventually outgrew that location as well. Its last day in the garage was Sept. 28. The next day, movers transported the pantry’s eight freezers and countless racks and boxes of food, and volunteers worked hard to get the pantry ready to welcome guests Oct. 3.

How does the St. Alphonsus Food Pantry operate?

The food pantry is open from 9 to 11:30 a.m. every Monday through Saturday, except on holidays, Norton explained. She encourages guests to make appointments by calling 315-252-0710, but she doesn’t turn away walk-in guests. After completing the initial intake process, guests walk through the pantry with volunteers and choose which food items they’d like to take, Norton said, noting that there are some parameters based on family size and various types of food.

The food pantry follows a slightly different schedule on the days just before Thanksgiving and Christmas, when volunteers distribute hundreds of specially prepared baskets, Norton said. Each basket includes not only the fixings for a holiday meal, but enough food to feed the family for three additional days.

The food distributed in the baskets and in the pantry on a daily basis comes from a variety of sources, Norton said. She places regular orders with the Food Bank of Central New York and frequently gets fresh produce from the local farmer’s market. Auburn-area schools and organizations often conduct food drives to benefit the St. Alphonsus Food Pantry, she added.

Individuals and families also have been generous in their financial support, Norton said, citing the example of a little girl who recently ran a lemonade stand that raised $50 for the food pantry. Two teenage boys recently took it upon themselves to collect donations for the pantry from their neighbors, and a little boy brought her an envelope filled with about $5 worth of pennies and nickels he’d gathered by collecting spare change and returning cans and bottles, she said.

“We’re so pleased that the community is behind us 100 percent,” Norton said. “That’s so important to us, because without them, we just wouldn’t be.”

Volunteers keep the Auburn food pantry running

Some show their support by volunteering at the pantry. Norton has a group of 20 to 25 regular volunteers as well as additional volunteers who help out around the holidays, particularly with the Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets. These volunteers take pride in their work and ensure the food pantry runs smoothly, she said.

One of Norton’s regular volunteers is Father Paul Alciati, who started volunteering at the food pantry three years ago after he retired from his pastorate in the Diocese of Syracuse.

“It is a direct, hands-on help to people that are food insecure,” said Father Alciati, who helps at the food pantry every Wednesday. “We see immediate results from our efforts. We see people leave very happily. They’re grateful, and it’s satisfying to know you’ve done something to hopefully change someone’s hunger needs.”

Those needs have grown exponentially in the four decades since the food pantry opened, Norton said. During those first few years, volunteers served three or four families a week, but now the food pantry serves more than 200 families each month, she said. Helping these families is gratifying, she said.

“God said to do these corporal works of mercy, and the first one is to feed the hungry. I may not be able to do other things, but this one I can do,” Norton said.

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