In this week's Catskill Mountain News, local gardeners coming to the rescue of hurtin' food pantries.
Roxbury resident Jill Ribich is a woman who likes a mission, who with her Texas determination, sees a problem and sets out to fix it. Here: helping the hungry and finding a home for the excess produce from local gardens. She organized the Catskills Community Garden Club to donate homegrown goods to local food pantries. With its 30-some odd members they’ve come together just when area food pantries are the most desperate.
People often think of winter as a time to help the hungry, but right now the need is dire. The 14 community food pantries in the county, flung across towns from Grand Gorge to East Branch and including Roxbury, Andes and Margaretville, are in trouble. Normally they get their supplies from the Hamden-based Delaware Opportunities, which until June acted as a countywide distributor to the smaller community pantries. But, the organization lost its grant to provide the service though they are continuing to stock their own Hamden-based food bank.
When they realized they might not get funded to distribute to the local pantries, Delaware Opportunities encouraged all of them to apply for grants from the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in Latham. Only five applied, and Sue Dapkins, the group’s community services director explains. “I believe all five got funded, though I’m not sure to what degree.”
Margaretville received $1,500, which might sound like a pittance, but Dapkins says it’s close to what the village had received via Delaware Opportunities. Only now the Margaretville Food Pantry has to get it directly from Latham. “It gets a tremendous amount of donations nationally from corporations as well as access to donated foods and USDA purchased foods and commodities. By joining, local pantries like Margaretville get the benefit of the Regional Food Bank’s purchasing power.”
Margaretville’s $1,500 grant might go far, but the problems are obvious as Josie Stern stands in the cramped quarters of the Margaretville Food Pantry. She’s worried about the future. The grant won’t kick in until September at the earliest, and then it requires jumping through hoops from state inspections to budgeting and learning to deal with new official paperwork, plus applying for more grants – all of which stretches a small volunteer-run organization.
Participation anonymous The pantry, located in a garage behind Rettew Engineering on Main Street, is run on anonymity and need and respect. The group asks those in need to fill out an application but doesn’t require proof of hardship. One volunteer said that on Friday afternoons when the pantry is open two hours for walk-ins, it will get seven, 10 people coming.
“Each person represents a family, a household, in the area. They’re mostly the elderly and young families,” the volunteer said. “You hear a lot of hard-luck stories. There will be construction workers who are out of work or injured and can’t afford their health care. They often can’t even afford to get to doctors’ appointments.”
Those seven or 10 people on Fridays represent only a fraction of those served. People can only come once every few weeks, and the pantry, whose reach extends from Fleischmanns to Roxbury as well as the Margaretville area, also schedules appointments on Mondays and Wednesdays.
While there’s still food on the shelves in Margaretville, all the local pantries are going to be squeezed. Dapkins says, “They’re going to be hurting and hard pressed at the moment.” The head of the Andes pantry, Joe Sicinski, said in the Watershed Post that he was nervous about how they’ll manage. So too is Stern about the prospects in Margaretville.
“Come the middle of the month when people have used up their food stamps, our shelves will be bare.” Bonnie Grocholl says the Roxbury Food Bank has weathered the cutbacks okay for now – but only thanks to the local gardeners.
The Catskill Community Garden Club has set up Quarltere’s Garden and Market Place on Route 30 just north of Halcottsville as the drop off location for food and vegetables. Anyone can donate, whether or not they’re a member, and they can give produce, canned goods, checks or cash to benefit the food banks. Ribich explains that the group’s larger purpose is to pick projects that help communities, like planting flowers in Kirkside Park this year, but the members wanted to do something more.
“And right now gardens are just becoming flush,” Lauren Quarltere says. “We’ve already collected hundreds of pounds of vegetables and distributed them to Roxbury and Margaretville. It’s good to see how people in the community come together.”
Ribich adds in her Texas drawl, “That joke about how in summer you need to keep your windows up or else you’ll come back to a car full of zucchini, now keep them rolled down and just drive straight to Quarltere’s.”