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Food pantries are well-stocked, seeking needy recipients

  • Glo Morison. president of the board of the Peterborough Food Pantry, brings bagged food out for distribution at the pantry. Staff photo by Stacy Hannings

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/1/2021 1:21:01 PM

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year and thousands of New Hampshire residents lost jobs or were laid off, the expectation was that local food pantries would be flooded with new clients in need of food.

Some pantries have seen an uptick in visitors during open hours, including new families, but largely, the big increase that most expected has not occurred. With three rounds of stimulus checks and extra benefits for the unemployed, people have more money available and some food pantry leaders question if that has something to do with the decrease in numbers.

But one thing that has increased is the amount of donations, which has led to more offerings for those using the local pantries. Now pantries just need more people to come and take the food home.

Number of visitors

Maureen Cullinan, co-chair of the Faith Food Pantry in Temple, said unlike a lot of pantries in the area, their numbers have not dropped off – and at times have increased.

“We have been busy,” Cullinan said, adding almost every pantry there are at least a couple of new families. Throughout the pandemic there have been upwards of 20 families at the twice-monthly open times, which is high. She said the number do fluctuate because sometimes there will only be 10 families.

“It’s hard to predict,” she said. “Some only come a couple times a year, others come every pantry.”

Before the pandemic, the average was 12 to 14 families, so at least for the Faith Food Pantry, the pandemic has shown more of a need.

“We did expect it to skyrocket and it did,” Cullinan said. And she knows there are others that just don’t know they are there. “Some people will say ‘I didn’t know you were here.’ And there are folks we wish would come because we hear they could use the help. People just don’t come unless they really need to.”

Stella Walling, a volunteer with the Rindge Food Pantry for the last three years, said the number of individuals and families using the pantry began to decline last March – and for whatever reason it has stayed that way throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to coronavirus, there used to be more than 300 people a week that visited the pantry, which is open to all NH residents, but now that has been reduced to 20 to 25 families a week.

“It’s at least half now, if not less,” Walling said. “It’s a big difference.” She said the make-up of the clients is different, as more young people with small children are using the pantry and “that’s a sad change to see.”

She wishes more people would use the pantry, but the need just isn’t there – at least in the form of clients visiting.

Because there isn’t as many people coming in, Walling said they have been giving out more food to those who do.

Glo Morison, President of the Board of Directors of the Peterborough Food Pantry, said the number of clients using the pantry open to families in towns that encompass the ConVal, Jaffrey-Rindge and Mascenic school districts, is still below where they were before last March.

“We’re about half, maybe a little more than half, than before the pandemic,” Morison said. Before COVID-19, Morison said they averaged about 70 to 85 households a week, while now it is about 40 to 50, sometimes even less. “We haven’t seen an uptick and I didn’t think it would last this long. We have more food and more money than before and less customers.”

She said they have been working to try and spread the word to get some families to return, as well as new households to take advantage of the offerings.

“It’s slow but I think as the world gets out of this hopefully we’ll have more,” Morison said, adding that if people are in need, they just need to ask.

“If you need food right now come by or call. We’ll send you home with something,” she said.

Donations

Morison said around the time the pandemic changed just about every aspect of life, the influx of donations was dramatic.

“And it’s still more than we used to take in during a given month,” she said. “And we’re really trying to find ways to spend it.” That means buying items that aren’t traditionally stocked like butter, certain kinds of crackers and different meats.

Cullinan said the increase in donations have been very generous.

“We have been unbelievably supported by our community,” she said, with some people opting to take on a monthly donation role. “It’s been overwhelming and helpful.”

While they always appreciate food donations, the lack of space and specific needs means monetary donations make the biggest impact.

“We’re always grateful, but we do need certain items,” Cullinan said.

With the extra money, they have been able to increase their variety in things like cereal and meat, and stock lesser available items, like ice cream, bottled water, butter and milk.

“A lot of things we can get now were extra things,” Cullinan said. “It’s the variety that’s been nice.” They also try and stock up on personal care items, diapers and other things that people have asked for.

“We listen to what they say,” she said. “And it makes a huge difference with these folks.”

Walling said the donations have been over the top since last March, both in the form of actual food to stock the shelves and money. Thanks to the boost in cash, Walling said the Rindge Pantry has been able to purchase items that were once considered a luxury – like milk, yogurt and eggs.

“Because we have the funds now thanks to all the great donations,” Walling said.

Walling said they had some of those items on hand before, but now can offer them more regularly. Other items that are now available weekly include coffee, tea, juices, paper and hygiene products.

She said some of the money donated has also been put away for future use.

“Because that rainy day will come, at least that’s what we’re expecting,” Walling said.

While donations of any kind are greatly appreciated, Walling said there is only so much storage at the pantry so she has been telling people who inquire about donating that cash is preferred.

Operations

Walling said the Rindge Pantry is still operating in a curbside manner. There were discussions about going back to normal, but that the board decided to stay with curbside for the time being. The pantry is open each Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m.

Morison said in an effort to attract more clients, they added evening hours on Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Other hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.

“We have people who work 9 to 5 jobs that can’t get there between 9 and 12,” she said. Morison said she has reached out to other pantries in the area to see if they could help point people in the direction of the Peterborough pantry.

“A lot of them are only open once a week,” Morison said. “And we have meat and fresh produce and other items they might not get at their local pantry.”

In May, they began hosting specialty weeks where households can stock up on things like cleaning supplies (first week of the month), toiletries (second) and paper products (third).

“We don’t have a lot of storage space,” Morison said. “So we figured if we had these specialty weeks it could come in and go out that week.”

So far, she said, it’s been quite popular and it’s been because of those extra funds that they’ve been able to offer those items regularly.

“We thought, ‘let’s take some of that money and stock them,’” she said.

Cullinan said the Faith Food Pantry is open the first Wednesday of the month from 5 to 7 p.m. and the third Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon and is open to anyone food insecure. They give out two weeks worth of food at each pantry. She said the range is typically about 11 local towns.

“A good portion of our folks are from Temple,” she said.

Stimulus/unemployment

Morison said when the first round of extra unemployment benefits ran out last August, there was an increase. The numbers were larger around the first of the year “then it sort of got quiet again,” she said.

“We know there’s got to be people out there who just can’t get here,” she said. “We definitely have times where we’re busy, but just not the same kind of busy we were before. It’s so hit or miss.”

With the extra $300 federal unemployment benefits in New Hampshire are set to expire on June 19, Morison wonders if that will alter things.

“I think any change is going to result in more people needing,” she said.

Walling said she expects once the stimulus checks and added unemployment benefits end, things might change and more people will start using the pantry again.

“There might be more of a need, but it’s hard to be certain about that,” she said.

Grants

Walling said the Rindge Pantry received a NH Feeds NH Grant from the NH Food Bank, which allows the pantry to use those funds to purchase fresh produce from local farmers.

“It’s a win, win for everybody,” she said.

Faith Food Pantry also received a NH Feeds NH Grant, which they have earmarked specifically for fresh produce.

With last year’s grant, they bought items from Tenney Farm in Antrim and maple syrup from Ben’s Sugar Shack down the road in Temple, as well as McLeod Orchards and Fitch’s Corner Farm Stand in Milford.

“The whole goal is to help New Hampshire farmers,” Cullinan said.


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