Margaret Colasurdo received a somewhat unusual telephone call one day in mid-November. The caller informed her that she needed to find a place to store 52 frozen turkeys.
“Boy, did I have a time,” Colasurdo recalled. “I didn’t know where I was going to put all the turkeys. I was going nuts that day.”
She eventually managed to squeeze all the turkeys into the freezers at her home and at St. John School in Clyde, where she maintains the food pantry for St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde and St. Patrick Parish in Savannah. She will use the turkeys and the accompanying three pallets of other food later this month when she puts together Christmas baskets for needy families in the area.
Colasurdo distributed 97 Christmas baskets last year, and she plans to give out a similar number of baskets this year. Each basket contains enough food for families to prepare a full Christmas dinner, as well as breakfast and lunch for that day.
“We also try to give them a little more (food) than just for that one day. We have candy in there for the kids,” she added.
December is one of the busiest times of the year for the parishes’ food pantry, noted Colasurdo, who has been running the pantry since 1974. The same is true in other areas of the region, agreed Sue Norton, who with her husband, Charlie, coordinates Auburn’s St. Alphonsus Parish Food Pantry. The pace actually starts picking up at their food pantry around November, she said, when volunteers put together Thanksgiving baskets.
“In fact, for Thanksgiving we planned on making 300 baskets and ended up doing 365,” she added. “There are a lot of people that are just making it paycheck to paycheck, and then it comes to the holidays and they just can’t afford to do what they want to do.”
The holidays alone are not the only factors contributing to this increased need during the winter, she said. Increased heating costs, especially during recent years, have made it hard for families to make ends meet. Colds, flu bugs and other illnesses also are common during the colder months, and this can hurt a family’s financial situation, especially “if they’re working in the type of job where if you’re sick for a day, you don’t get paid,” Norton said.
Many people find themselves in need of more food during the holiday season if they entertain visitors — who may or may not be expected — or welcome back college students or other grown children who have moved out of the house. Even school holidays can affect a family’s pantry, especially if the children usually receive breakfast or lunch at school, Norton said.
“Now all the sudden here’s these hungry little kids, and they’re looking for something to eat,” she said.
When the winter months come, many seasonal laborers find themselves out of work and unable to feed their families, noted Fay Connelly, co-manager of the Canandaigua Churches in Action’s food pantry. They may be able to find work again in the spring, but the winter months — and especially the holiday season — might be financially tight for these families. All these factors combine to make the winter months a busy time at local food pantries, she said.
“I think more people, especially with families, realize they need some extra help to provide food for their tables,” said Connelly, who was co-coordinator of Canandaigua’s St. Mary Parish Food Pantry for seven years before it joined the new CCIA initiative in June.
The good news for area food pantries, however, is that people seem to be more generous around the holidays, she added. Although many people take advantage of Thanksgiving and Christmas as a time to enjoy an abundance of holiday foods, they also seem to be aware of their hungry neighbors and the spirit of giving that also comes with these holidays.
For example, St. Hyacinth Parish in Auburn recently hosted a Thanksgiving Day Mass for Auburn’s Catholics, and many families who came to the Mass brought nonperishable food items to donate to the St. Alphonsus food pantry, Norton said. The Auburn community has always been supportive of the food pantry, but donations — especially monetary donations — do seem to pick up a little around the holidays, she noted.
“This community is very generous and very concerned, and they give and give ’til it hurts,” she said.
Individuals and organizations often decide to hold their own food drives during the holiday season, and the CCIA food pantry recently received a number of donated food items from such drives, Connelly said.
Most area parishes either maintain their own food pantries or support other local food pantries, and they usually welcome donations around the holidays and throughout the rest of the year, as well.
“Hunger is all year round, not just at Christmastime,” Connelly remarked.