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Peterborough Food Pantry, offering a helping hand to area residents

  • Volunteers Carmen Duhaime, left, and Debbie Bower prepare to distribute food at the Peterborough Food Pantry on Thursday.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Volunteers Carmen Duhaime, left, and Debbie Bower prepare to distribute food at the Peterborough Food Pantry on Thursday.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Volunteers Carmen Duhaime, left, and Debbie Bower prepare to distribute food at the Peterborough Food Pantry on Thursday.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Spirit of giving, Peterborough Food Bank<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

A 26-year-old single man from Peterborough who has full-time work but can’t make ends meet. A father of three from Francestown who lost his job in information technology earlier this year and has been unable to find another one. A 59-year-old Peterborough woman with two teens at home who is struggling due to the high cost of food. They each stopped in at the Peterborough Food Pantry on Thursday morning and walked off with a bag full of groceries and supplies to help them get through another week.

“I’ve never seen so many people so needy,” said the woman, who like the two men asked not to be identified by name. “The price of everything has gone up. I know a lot of people who really need help. I don’t come all the time, but certain weeks it’s really necessary to come by.”

“I’m unable to get food stamps, but I still need help,” said the younger man. “The cost of living is just so high. This is a great program; they make you feel comfortable. It’s the people who donate that make this all possible. I just want to thank them.”

The Peterborough Food Pantry, which helps people from all towns in the region, is now located in the Community Center on Elm Street, after moving about two years ago from the Peterborough Town House. It’s the main project of the Peterborough Human Services Fund, founded in 1996 by James Lenane after he retired as town welfare officer. The nonprofit organization is made up entirely of volunteers and receives no funding from the town’s budget, although the town provides space at the former armory and covers the cost of electricity.

“We served more than 400 people in November,” said Debbie Bower, a member of the group’s Board of Directors who was filling bags and handing out food Thursday. “That’s the most we’ve ever had. At the Town House, if we saw eight people, that was a busy day. Now we often see more than 30.”

Bower said people are starting to realize that the pantry is not just for Peterborough residents.

“Word of mouth is getting around,” she said. “We had 11 people today so far, and only four were from Peterborough. We get people from as far as Hillsborough or Rindge.”

Many of those who use the pantry are from the 11 percent of New Hampshire households known as “food insecure,” according to Chris Mann, president of the Human Services Fund board.

“If you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, that’s food insecure,” Mann said on Friday. “There are 51,000 children in New Hampshire in that category. One-third of the kids at ConVal are on a subsidized food program that gets them breakfast and lunch. What do they do during vacations or summer?”

Mann said the food stamp program allows $4.87 per day per person.

“That’s not a lot of money. People run out by the 12th of the month. That’s when we see the rush at the pantry.”

The food comes from many sources: the New Hampshire Food Bank and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, contributions from local grocery stores, seasonal food drives sponsored by the Sunshine Fund, the Post Office, Boy Scouts and other organizations, and drop-off carts.

“We get meat and bread weekly from Shaw’s,” said Carmen Duhaime, a board member who was also working Thursday morning. “That’s a huge help. This year we got nearly 150 turkeys for Thanksgiving, some from the New Hampshire Food Bank. One family donated 65 of them.”

Roy’s Market is also a generous contributor. And many people drop off bags of food and fresh vegetables at times.

“Gardeners will bring in their overflow,” Bower said. “This summer we got some vegetables from the Cornucopia project and we should have more when they really get their garden here at the armory going next year.”

But the amount of food on the shelves is inconsistent.

“Right around Thanksgiving, we had plenty,” Mann said. “Two weeks later, a lot of it was gone.”

The organization has to rely on cash donations as demand has increased and food costs risen, so Mann has been focusing on fundraising since she joined the board about a year and a half ago.

“We needed an infusion of community awareness,” she said. “We were burning money really quickly.”

So Mann, who is a self-employed management consultant, worked to make the connection with the N.H. Food Bank. The pantry developed a strong relationship with Shaw’s. And a new logo for the Peterborough Food Pantry was designed by students in ConVal High School’s graphic arts program.

“It gave us a facelift,” Mann said.

About 97 percent of the money donated to the pantry goes directly to pay for food.

“We are a guest of the town at the armory. Nobody’s paid. Everyone on the board works. We don’t have an executive director. We don’t have a website. We don’t have T-shirts. We don’t do anything fancy,” Mann said.

But she expects fundraising will always be a challenge, since so many people need help.

“The numbers are trending up,” Mann said. “Rural communities are the last to see improvements in the economy. It’s a tough place to be poor; if your car breaks down, you’re dead in the water. There are a lot of people in our towns living in poverty

Donations have been up recently, Mann said.

“It’s a very generous community we live in,” she said. “We have a number of big donors. We also have little old ladies who walk in and give $3 in cash.”

She stresses that the Peterborough Food Pantry has always been available to residents of any area town. People are simply asked to fill out an assistance application, in order to gather data on usage, but no one is turned away. Mann said about half of those who come in are from Peterborough, with the rest from towns all over the region.

The Peterborough Human Services Fund also manages an emergency aid program, which is limited to residents of Peterborough.

“When Jim Lenane started the fund, he saw people falling through the cracks. New England towns have always had the tradition of taking care of the poor, and it’s required by law,” Mann said. “The emergency aid program is local and confidential. The food pantry is our major program.”

Mann said many of the people who pick up food also volunteer to help.

“We have a woman who always brings in mittens she’s made and donates them. An elderly man who comes will often volunteer to sweep the floor or shovel snow. That’s dignity. We try to make the process pleasant for them and it’s a pleasure to work there. It’s the most heartwarming work I’ve ever done.”

Contributions to support the food pantry may be made to Peterborough Human Services Fund, 1 Grove St. Peterborough, NH 03458.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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