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Food Bank of CNY to advocate for more government funding

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CANTON - The Food Bank of Central New York wants to do more for Northern New York pantries aside from twice-monthly food deliveries, according to Executive Director Kathleen Stress.

The agency will advocate for more government funding in order to purchase more food items for all food pantries in its 11-county coverage area, which includes Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Oswego counties.

“I can say with confidence we will be able to meet meal requests,” she said. “Can I do that long term?”

Not with a reduction in funding from state and federal governments, Mrs. Stress said, while local food pantries are reporting increased need as more working families struggle to make ends meet. According to recent Food Bank data, meal requests from households increased by 9 percent in Jefferson County, 3 percent in Lewis County, 2 percent in Oswego County, and 12 percent in St. Lawrence County. Across the Food Bank’s entire coverage area, the need is up 6 percent, Mrs. Stress said.

The Food Bank, 7066 Interstate Island Road, Syracuse, has a 74,000-square-foot warehouse that distributes about 12 million pounds of food each year to Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties.

Part of the increased pressure to reduce, or even work toward eliminating hunger in Central and Northern New York, is because “we still have about one third of the population under the age of 18,” Mrs. Stress said, regarding people who benefit from Food Bank pantry and soup kitchen locations.

At the Community Action Planning Council of Jefferson County’s food pantry, 37.4 percent, or 3,481 of the 9,304 emergency food recipients from Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2013, were children in that age category, according to a recent agency report.

“What really surprises me isthe face of the typical customer. It’s forever changing,” said Dawn M. Cole, CAPC deputy director. “They’re folks who’ve fallen on hard times.”

Without the help of community members who donated $147,000 worth of food from Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2013, $25,000 in cash donations, and $26,000 in government funding and a line of credit at the Food Bank, Mrs. Cole said the agency would not be able to help put food on the tables of local families.

Any increase in funding would help, she said, so Food Bank advocacy efforts would be appreciated.

Watertown Urban Mission Executive Director Erika F. Flint agreed, and said about half of the food the agency’s food pantry receives comes from Food Bank-related funds. Ms. Flint said she appreciates the Food Bank’s advocacy efforts, as the mission’s pantry — like many other local food pantries — struggles annually.

“Our pantry always operated at a deficit,” Ms. Flint said. “At some point it will become too much.”

She recognized the Northern New York Community Foundation for its support to area pantries, as the foundation awards annual grants to the Food Bank, to help stretch those dollars since the Food Bank purchases by the truckload. Other support has come from area agencies, such as the United Way of Northern New York, and local community groups and residents.

Ms. Flint said she has come across very few grants that are specific to helping individual food pantries, so the mission would be grateful for any added support the Food Bank could provide.

Eventually, Mrs. Stress she’d love to be out of a job if that meant hunger has been eliminated. A bag of food that pantries might provide families is only one step, a “gap or Band-Aid approach,” she said. The Food Bank also teaches food pantry operators how to engage clients in nutrition education programs so clients can learn how to make easy, five-step meals with food pantry items.

Looking at new service delivery models will be a focus in 2014, she said, and one idea may include school-based food pantries for families to use.

For more information, visit www.foodbankcny.org/advocacy.

By the numbers
Here is a look at results of a recent Food Bank of Central New York hunger survey:
• 394 in-person interviews of households who used a Food Bank-associated pantry or soup kitchen in the summer of 2013
• 22 percent have completed some college or a two-year degree
• 91 percent of clients have annual incomes below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four)
• 68 percent have at least one family member with diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol
• 75 percent of client households receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
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