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United Way food drive collects items for 21 area pantries

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The need to fill food pantry shelves in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties was so apparent Friday during the United Way of Northern New York’s 20th annual Jefferson County food drive that one representative came as far as Star Lake to pick up his pantry’s share of goods.

Philip F. Giardino, with the Star Lake Food Pantry in the Clifton-Fine Community Center, took the 56-mile drive from Star Lake to where the food drive was held in the parking lot of St. Anthony’s Church in Watertown to pick up hundreds of non-perishable food items. He said he was surprised and excited for the invitation to join the food drive, which traditionally has been solely for pantries in Jefferson County.

“This summer we did give out a great deal of food,” he said, as he loaded food into his sport utility vehicle. “We have a variety of food and frozen meats, but staples are canned goods and dried goods, and we need a ton of it.”

Mr. Giardino came well prepared for his first United Way food drive, and even brought a trailer. He said the Star Lake Food Pantry averages 450 people per month.

The drive also benefited Grace Food Pantry, Gouverneur, and 19 pantries in Jefferson County. United Way Chief Professional Officer Jayn M. Graves said this event was a test drive to see if a possible food drive in St. Lawrence County would be both needed and successful.

“I’d come to Watertown if I had to for it,” Mr. Giardino said.

Miss Graves said the support from the community for the food drive has been overwhelming. Both businesses and community members donated thousands of non-perishable and personal-hygiene items, which dozens of volunteers helped sort. Northern Federal Credit Union’s employees and members alone collected $7,000, which was used to purchase goods through Hannaford SuperStore.

“The best part is (food pantries) are so appreciative of it, but we’re so appreciative of them for doing what they do,” Miss Graves said.

Anita D. Ciulo, Watertown Urban Mission food pantry coordinator, stopped by Friday’s food drive before the scheduled pickup time to check out what had been donated. She said the mission is happy to receive the donations, but the food lasts only about one week there. The pantry served 601 families last month.

“You have to give a family, because we’re under the Food Bank of Central New York’s USDA guidelines, certain things,” she said. “You have to have all vegetable and fruit servings.”

The United Way’s food drive is an opportunity for the mission’s pantry to get plenty of extras that it cannot afford to purchase otherwise, such as brownie/cake/cookie mix, pet food, pickles and olives.

“A classic example of smoothing we don’t get — I see a case of jam,” Mrs. Ciulo said.

By 2 p.m. Friday, all pantries had picked up their goods.

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