While many think of giving to their local food bank during the holiday season, donations are harder to come by as the weather grows warmer.
This spring, the Bethlehem Food Pantry is in need of more than just food. Some local elementary schools, Scout troops and the post office have drives scheduled, and the Nationwide Insurance office in Delmar is holding a larger drive throughout town for personal care items.
“We wanted to give back to the community and help local people out,” said Nationwide representative Marleia Main. “We know at the food pantry, there is always a need.”
A joint program between Bethlehem Senior Projects and the town’s Department of Senior Service, the Bethlehem Food Pantry was established in 1982. Originally the pantry ran just on donations, but as use increased during the recession, items have needed to be purchased to supplement the pantry through the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.
“One of the things people may not realize is with SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), you can’t purchase non-food items, but there are often essential items that people need,” said Bethlehem Senior Services Outreach Coordinator Will Vail.
Main said the idea had been to do another food drive until the pantry specifically asked if personal care items could be collected. “Of course we said OK, if that was more important.”
According to Vail, about 55 to 60 families use the Bethlehem Food Pantry on a monthly basis. Use of the pantry has tripled since 2009, and those numbers have yet to decrease.
“I would say it’s mostly families and families with young children,” said Vail. “That’s the vast majority. People think of Bethlehem as fairly affluent, but there is a great need here. The recession hit people hard, and a lot of people still having difficulty in the wake of that.”
There are eight regular food pantry volunteers, with about three major drives throughout the year to keep shelves stocked. One is the annual Turkey Trot, while the Boy Scouts and local postal workers also both do larger drives.
Since use of the pantry remains high, workers had been searching for additional storage space for items. Most of the food is kept hidden behind the stage curtain of the main meeting hall, but the space is also shared with a local orchestra. A small room to the left contains additional food storage, but wheelchairs, walkers and crutches are stored there as well for another Bethlehem Senior Projects program.
Additional space has yet to be found because of the cost, although there is a sister pantry through Venture Churches at the First Reformed Church of Bethlehem in Selkirk. Vail said additional residents who live in Glenmont and Selkirk often make use of that pantry instead of driving into Delmar. The sister pantry also has refrigeration available, while the Bethlehem Food Pantry does not.
Volunteers with Nationwide will be dropping-off bags to homes throughout town this week. For those who don’t receive a bag, but still wish to donate, temporary boxes will be set-up at various locations throughout town. Some locations include the Nationwide Insurance office on Delaware Avenue, the Key Bank in Delaware Plaza and 365 Fit. Permanent donations boxes can be found at the public library, YMCA, Town Hall and the Delmar Marketplace.
Main said she is also hoping some local grocery stores will be willing to have a donation box.
Items needed include: toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, shampoo, conditioner, soap, shaving cream, laundry detergent, deodorant, sun screen and toilet paper. Other cosmetics, cleaning products or toiletries are also accepted.
Vail said if people are ever unsure of what to donate, residents are welcome to call since needs change throughout the year. Canned meats are always needed, though the food pantry also welcomes cash donations to help them buy additional food to stay in stock during the slow months.
“We’re so thrilled Nationwide reached out to us,” said Vail. “It’s outstanding.”
Items will be collected the next two weeks. More information at www.townofbethlehem.org.