Need is on the rise in the Finger Lakes area. At least, that’s the story from local food pantries, which have seen the number of families they serve skyrocket in recent months.
“Our numbers are way, way up,” said Sue Norton, coordinator of the St. Alphonsus Food Pantry in Auburn. “I’m seeing per month probably about 100 families more.”
That means the pantry regularly is serving between 300 and 350 families each month now, rather than the 200 to 250 families it used to serve each month, she explained.
The food pantry of Canandaigua Churches in Action, meanwhile, has been serving slightly more than 400 families per month recently, compared to a previous high of 375 families just a few months ago, noted Jeff Lippincott, executive director of Canandaigua Churches in Action and assistant pastor at Zion Fellowship in Canandaigua.
And the story is similar in Yates County, added Sara Bodine, who belongs to St. Theresa Church in Stanley, which is part of Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community. Bodine coordinates a program through which St. Theresa parishioners donate food and used clothing to Friendship House, a thrift store and food pantry that serves those in need in Yates County and the Marcus Whitman Central School District. Friendship House organizers told Bodine they are always in need of any type of nonperishable food, she said.
“This year has been the worst they’ve seen it. This is the most quantity of people in need they’ve ever seen,” Bodine said.
The good news, however, is that local parishioners and faith communities have been stepping forward to do their part to help those in need. In late October Bodine placed a box inside St. Theresa Church and began collecting donated food and used clothing for Friendship House, which uses proceeds from the clothing sales in its thrift store to purchase more food for its pantry.
“I thought it was placed on my heart by God that I should be doing something with this ministry,” she explained.
Each week Bodine checks the box, and each week she is amazed and gratified to find a renewed supply of donated items.
“Every week we’ve seen a response,” she said.
Lippincott said food donations at the food pantry of Canandaigua Churches in Action have been up for the past month or so. The churches in the coalition, including St. Mary Parish, help support the pantry and their support remains pretty consistent year-round, while personal donations tend to fluctuate a bit throughout the year, he said.
“It’s up around the holidays. We live in a pretty generous community. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is, every little bit helps,” Lippincott said.
Auburn is a pretty generous community as well, Norton commented.
“Our parishioners at St. Alphonsus are probably the best parishioners in the world because they give and give and give, even when they have nothing,” she said.
Nonetheless, sometimes these donors find their budgets stretched so thin they simply can’t afford to give anymore, Norton added.
“A lot of the people that would donate $50 or $75 are now donating $25. People who used to come in and give me a $20 bill are now coming in asking for help,” she said.
And when people find themselves needing food, Lippincott has learned, they usually are facing other issues as well. Sometimes they need help paying for their fuel oil or electricity bills, and other times they need help with other financial emergencies. Although the food pantry can’t help people facing such dilemmas, Lippincott usually refers them to Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes, which has a satellite office inside Canandaigua Churches in Action’s headquarters.
With the local economy and job market still looking fairly bleak, Norton doesn’t expect to see a decrease in the number of people seeking assistance anytime soon.
“It used to be the beginning of the month wasn’t that bad, but now … it doesn’t stop at all anymore. If we had a day where we did 10 families one day, we’re liable to do 25 the next,” she said. “I don’t see it getting any smaller.”
Nonetheless, she refuses to let discouragement take over, and she believes the Lord will provide what she needs to continue feeding the hungry in Auburn.
“We trust in the Lord,” she explained simply.