Feb 26, 2014 Joe Genco Uncategorized
Local fire departments, boy and girl scouts, church congregations, postal workers, bakeries and rotary clubs all have one thing in common. All these organizations contribute donations to the Skaneateles Ecumenical Food Pantry.
Operating for more than a decade, the food pantry is a local success story, demonstrating how a community can come together to help its less fortunate members year after year.
Throughout the year, the pantry is either involved with, or the beneficiary of, countless charitable programs and initiatives.
Though many people associate food pantries and charitable giving with certain times of year, the pantry in Skaneateles is open 50 weeks a year and always benefits from donations, especially during periods, such as February and March, between major holidays, Pantry Chairperson Judy Gelston said.
“Can I plan on any single thing? Absolutely not, but somehow everyone seems to step up,” Gelston said. “Everybody does a little, you’d be surprised.”
The food pantry, located in the same building as the school district’s transportation center on West Genesee Street, was formed around 2000 when several local church food pantries came together to pool their resources and services, Gelston said.
Today the pantry is affiliated with eight local churches: Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Skaneateles United Methodist Church, St. James Episcopal Church, The First Presbyterian Church of Skaneateles, Owasco Reformed Church, St. Mary’s of the Lake, Grace Chapel and St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church.
In addition to donations, the pantry receives funding from the federal government with occasional support from the state government. Its overhead and operating costs are practically nonexistent since it is operated entirely by volunteers and is given access to space in the school district’s building for free, Gelston said.
Though it is only open to clients for two hours every week, a team of about 35 volunteers are frequently busy collecting and organizing donations, volunteer Joan Tarolli said.
“There is a lot of behind the scenes work going on,” she said.
Most of the food in the pantry is purchased from the Food Bank of Central New York, which is able to sell food at 187 percent of its retail value to fellow food pantries. The rest comes from donations collected at the churches or brought to the pantry from residents, businesses and community members, who are encouraged to stop by anytime to drop off items.
In addition to contributions made by churches and community organizations, the pantry has benefitted from a culture of giving and generosity in Skaneateles. Gelston said she has seen offices collect donations for casual Fridays, family members of recently deceased collect donations in lieu of flowers at a wake and kids collect donations instead of receiving birthday presents.
The pantry serves residents of the Skaneateles School District whose income is at most 185 percent of the U.S. poverty guidelines. In 2013, the pantry distributed enough food for about 39,000 meals.
Many of the clients do not qualify for food stamps, but still live on insufficient income, are out of work or have fallen on hard times for various reasons, Gelston said.
“You could be working, and sometimes you’ve got a lot of expenses that you maybe hadn’t planned on,” she said.
Though many clients are apprehensive about visiting the pantry at first, they often get more comfortable after a few trips. Confidentiality and privacy are ensured by the pantry volunteers to ease the experience, Gelston said.
In addition to its weekly service, the pantry, churches and other community organizations also put together and distribute holiday baskets every year including Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter time. This past December, 109 local families received a Christmas dinner basket. Sign up for Easter baskets will begin mid-March.
On the second Tuesday of the month, members of the Skaneateles Sunrise Rotary Club go shopping at Tops and then deliver the groceries to local senior citizens. Tops also pitches in by giving a 60 percent discount through a partnership with the food pantry.
Combining the church pantries to form an ecumenical or community-wide pantry has proven to be a successful strategy for many food pantries in the region including Skaneateles and Marcellus, both of which have been highly successful in recent years, Gelston said.
“We have all these people with little jobs working together that make it a very, very successful operation,” she said.
Anyone interested in donating, volunteering or seeking the assistance of the Skaneateles Ecumenical Food Pantry can stop by during its official hours: 10 to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and 7 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays at 819 W. Genesee St. or by calling Judy Gelston at 685-3512. Donations of food items can be left anytime.
Joe Genco is the editor of the Skaneatreles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.