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Pantries feeling the pinch as donations trickle in

September 29, 2010
LAKES REGION — As summer jobs come to an end and the upcoming heating season stretches already tight budgets in homes across the region, local food pantries report they are having a hard time keeping their shelves stocked and residents fed.

"We're still getting some donations but not as many and not enough to keep up with the growing need," said Paul Rowley of the Meredith Emergency Food Pantry.

Rowley said people are doing the best they can to support the pantry but the economy has definitely taken a toll on the amount of cash and food items his organization receives. The Lions Club, Meredith Rotary and the Kiwanis Club all contribute to the Community Action-based pantry and the Altrusa Club picked vegetables throughout the summer at Moulton's Farm to stock the bins, but Rowley said keeping up with the demand is getting harder.

"The output at the pantry has just climbed tremendously," said Rowley.

For 2008-2009 Meredith provided meals throughout the year for 734 people. Even with the help of service organizations and donations from local farms like Picnic Rock, providing enough food for families is getting more and more difficult. Hannaford's has graciously allowed him to come and pick up "shrinkage items" each week (food with an expiration date drawing near), which has been another big help, he said, but "It doesn't take long to say 'Where'd it all go?'"

Other pantries are struggling as well as more and more people require assitance. The Town of Sanbornton started a food pantry last October and the number of people they assist has nearly doubled in a year.

"We're seeing a lot more families with young children, too, and that means feeding more people in a household than we did when we first opened last year," said Director Melanie Van Tassel.

As the shelves emptied in the town pantry, volunteers became concerned. Some much needed help arrived last week though when Brian Loanes, a Belknap County employee, arrived with a sizeable donation.

Loanes said County Attorney James Carroll began the idea of a Pay Day Food Drive among county employees and they have been delivering food to pantries in the county.

"It was a way Jim came up with to help those helping others in our area. Last week we heard St. Joseph's pantry in Belmont was getting low so we took what we had over to them, too," Loanes said.

Van Tassel said the food from the county couldn't have come at a better time and she was most grateful to all who pitched in with the "wonderful" donation. Other assistance has come through the Sanbornton Congregational Church parishners and from the Knights of Columbus who have placed boxes in Market Basket for donations, which they then divide among several Lakes Region food pantries.

"That's been a great help, too. We really appreciate anything anyone can donate. It's just getting to be very difficult to keep up with the demand," said Van Tassel.

In Moultonboro, Bev Charest and Carol Robbins run a pantry at the United Methodist Church. Robbins said so far the pantry has "held its own," but layoffs from seasonal jobs as well as the upcoming holidays means demands will soon increase.

Items always in need are diapers, cereals, crackers and hardy soups. Paper goods, cleaning products and baby diapers are also appreciated.

"Food stamps won't pay for cleaning items or diapers so that's something we always like to have on hand," she said.

Drop offs of nonperishable items are needed at most pantries in the region as winter nears. In Sanbornton this summer a group of local gardeners planted a vegetable garden beside the old town hall to help stock the pantry but now that the growing season has ended, fresh vegetables are at a minimum.

"The garden was very successful for its first year and we'll look to expand it and make it even bigger next year," said Van Tassel.

Being conservative with her numbers, Van Tassel said the pantry spends $800 to $1,200 a month to feed residents. Besides cash donations, gift cards to local supermarkets are always appreciated to purchase meats, milk and produce as needed.

Rowley has been manning the pantry in Meredith for 12 of the 31 years it has been in existence. He said while he loves his job, it has heart-breaking moments, which serve to remind him of the need of people in the area.

"There was a little boy here one day who saw a cake we had received from Hannaford's. He got very excited and asked if he could have it because it was his birthday. His mother had tears in her eyes because now her son would have a cake. I have a lot of passion for this pantry because of things like that that are happening right here in Meredith," Rowley said.

Donations for the Meredith Emergency Food Pantry are accepted Mon.-Fri from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. In Sanbornton residents can leave nonperishable items at the Town Office or contact Melanie Van Tassel at 393-8450 to arrange for a drop-off. Cash and gift cards can be mailed to the Town Office. For Moultonboro United Methodist Church donations of cash can be mailed into the church office and food items may be brought in from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. Mon.-Thursday, and from 9:30-11 a.m. on Fridays.

Other pantries like First Fruits Food Pantry at the Second Baptist Church in Sanbornton, St. Joseph's Church in Belmont, St. Vincent De Paul Society in Laconia and the Center Harbor Christian Church can also be contacted by phone to arrange for a donation.

Martin Lord Osman
Tiffany Eddy
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