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St. Vincent de Paul not ‘corner store,’ vice president says

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MASSENA - The vice president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society says their organization is already stretched thin by the number of clients seeking assistance.

But, John Whalen said, they’re seeing more clients than they should.

“We are an emergency food pantry, and I underline the word emergency. People are using us as their corner store,” Mr. Whalen said.

“Right now we are on 30-day cycle whereby they’re supposed to get food from us every 30 days. You can always mark to the date when the 30 days is up,” he said.

Their number of emergency food calls has risen dramatically between 2011 and 2012, according to Mr. Whalen.

In August 2011, for example, they had 163 households and 564 individuals seeking help. One year later, that number had risen to 217 households and 716 individuals.

Over a six-month period, from March to August 2011, they served 826 households and 2,769 individuals. In 2012 that number had jumped to 1,263 households and 4,000 individuals, Mr. Whalen said.

“We’re up a third over last year,” he said, noting they’re now dipping into funds that they had been building in their reserves for the past several years.

To make matters worse, some of the clients are “double-dipping” by also receiving food from other local agencies, such as the Salvation Army, he said.

“We’re doing cross-checking,” he said. “We’re getting 20 to 30 calls a day, so we can’t cross-check everyone.”

But, he said, the hits just keep on coming, most recently the temporary closure of ComLinks, which provides them with supplemental items such as yogurt and energy drinks.

“We got our last delivery today,” Mr. Whalen said last week. “They’re out of the picture now. We’re going to miss them. It’s a nice filler.”

It’s even getting difficult to procure some of their regular items these days, he said.

“I just went on-line to the food banks to see what free foods they had. There was no USDA stuff. They had kidney beans, but they were all gone. There was nothing which was free. Normally there are 10 to 12 USDA items which we can take. Now we’re limited on what we can take,” he said.

“Our anticipation is not good,” he said. “We’re cutting giving household items. At this point in time our funds are exhausted. We’re trying to fixate on food. We need more money, and we need more help as far as manpower is concerned.”

St. Vincent de Paul has volunteer teams that pack and deliver food if needed, and Mr. Whalen said they are “completely overworked.”

“They work a day and then have 20 food calls to pack and deliver. Some of the people are my age or older, and they’re carrying all this stuff around,” he said. “We would certainly appreciate the help. One hundred percent of everything donated to us goes for client usage. There are no administration costs.”

For now, they’ll continue to do what they can for those who truly need the help, Mr. Whalen said.

“We’re focusing on food that has to be emergency food. It can’t be somebody looking at us as a grocery store,” he said.

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