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Food pantries struggling to keep up with demand

November 24, 2009
LITTLETON — The ravages of the poor economy are sending hordes of working class families into food pantries across the North Country. Local pantry managers report a large increase in participants and worry about their cupboards may be bare after the holiday season, which is a typically slow period of giving.

"It is so hard to keep up," said Karen Hoyt, outreach office manager for the Littleton Food Pantry, which is a program of the Tri-County Community Action Program. They are constantly balancing their time between gathering food and then distributing it.

The numbers are daunting for a small two-person operation. In October, the Littleton pantry served 427 people, compared to 364 during last October. It is expected that with a seasonal decline in retail jobs and the additional cold weather cost of home heating demand will surge upward in the coming months.

Their clientele, Ms. Hoyt said, typically are working class families, who have experienced either a "loss of jobs or cut in hours." Few elderly people utilize the food pantry, Hoyt said, "There are a lot of programs designed for the elderly," including the senior meals program.

Ms. Hoyt, who has worked at the local food pantry for nine years, credited the areas two major grocery stores for donating meat and fresh vegetables and fruit. The "Fresh Rescue" program began in July with the Littleton Area Coop providing vegetables and fruit and, in October, Shaw's grocery store chain began providing meat and bread. This is a rare and healthy addition to the program, which usually provides canned, pre-packaged and heavily processed food.

There are a scattering of food pantries and a few soup kitchens throughout the region. Tri-County CAP operates pantries in, Berlin, Colebrook, Littleton, Lancaster and Woodsville. These are publicly funded programs, which receive among other things, U.S. government surplus food. In some cases, they also get food from the New Hampshire Food Bank, a state-wide distributor of food to local benevolent organizations. The CAP pantries also rely heavily on food drives and private donations.

In Lancaster, Amy Nelson, the manager of the Lancaster CAP food pantry, which serves between 30-50 households per month said, "There is an increase in volume. Everyone is just reaching for everything."

In Berlin, Cindy Baillargeen, the manager of the Berlin CAP food pantry, has been busy with long lines. "September was the biggest month ever," she added. They served almost 900 people in September and October; the previous average was around 700 per month.

There are also a number of faith-based food pantries hosted by areas churches. Whitefield Community Baptist Church operates a small pantry from their thrift shop in the Whitefield village. They are open three hours per week spread over two nights and one day. Normally, they serve about twelve families an hour. "New people come all the time," said Lillian Harriman, the pantry manager. Over Thanksgiving, they will give gift certificates to Mac's Market, a local grocery store, rather than food. They are also working with several other organizations to host a free Christmas Day dinner on December 24 at the McIntyre School Apartments in Whitefield.

Other churches including three from Littleton — All Saints Episcopal Church, Littleton Bible Baptist and White Mountain Christian Church — provide food pantries.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Lancaster offers every Tuesday night "Soup-er" night with free soup, homemade breads and desserts. They regularly attract 70 people. The Salvation Army in Berlin also operates a soup kitchen. There is also a mobile food bank, which will be in Berlin at the Northway Bank parking lot on November 24 from 11-1 p.m.

All food pantries need donations of either money or non-perishable goods.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Town of Alexandria
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