POTSDAM - Three mornings a week Catherine E. Mathews and her band of volunteers meet behind the Supercenter Walmart, Route 11.
They arrive at about 8 a.m. and within less than half an hour theyre headed back to Canton, where Ms. Mathews serves as director of the Canton Church & Community Program.
On the return trip theyre stocked with roughly 600 pounds of surplus food ranging from frozen meat, poultry and fresh vegetables to baked goods, all donated by Walmart for the programs food pantry, 7 Main St.
The partnership started in March and has been an incredible way to supply people with a variety of fresh, healthy foods, Ms. Mathews said.
In the past, mostly canned and boxed goods have been available to those served by the pantry.
For the first time, I can offer fresh fruit and vegetables so people can make a real meal, Ms. Mathews said. Its exciting because we always know the food is going to be good.
Pork roast, beef brisket, chicken, steaks, Cornish game hens and other meat products have been distributed through the program. Donated fresh produce has included strawberries, salad, tomatoes, grapes and bananas. Rolls, bread, cakes and other baked goods are often included. Milk and other dairy products may be available soon.
The Retail Partnership Program is operated by the Central New York Food Bank, a not-for-profit Syracuse agency that distributes food to several north country food pantries.
Digital thermometers were provided to make sure the meat items remain cold enough before theyre unpacked at the food pantry. The agency has five freezers and refrigerators to store perishable food items.
The number of families served by the food pantry continues to climb and the extra food is helping meet the growing demand.
In 2012, the Church & Community food pantry provided enough food for 66,000 meals which grew to 90,000 in 2013, Ms. Mathews said. So far this year, food for more than 25,000 meals has been provided.
In March alone, we received 35 new participants, Ms. Mathews said.
Besides Canton, the agency serves families and individuals in DeKalb, Russell, Hermon, Rensselaer Falls and Clare.
The volume of food donations from the Potsdam Walmart has been great enough to allow the Church & Community Program to share extra with the Salvation Army, Ogdensburg.
Ms. Mathews said the Central New York Food Bank has agreed to let her share most of the food from Friday pick-ups so the food can be distributed on weekends when her pantry is closed.
Jesse E. Mason, a Salvation Army volunteer, said the Walmart food is distributed or used to make meals for the agencys soup kitchen which provides a free hot meal each week to Ogdensburg-area residents.
This food has helped tremendously throughout the community, Ms. Mason said. We have a lot of families who coount on this food. Now we have more variety.