By RACHAEL OSBORNE, Features Editor
---- — PLATTSBURGH — More families are visiting the Plattsburgh Interfaith Food Shelf for an emergency supply of food than ever before, and donations are desperately needed.
“For the first six months in 2012, the number of households served exceeded the total number of households served in 2011,” volunteer Nancy Hobbs said as a steady stream of people visited the Food Shelf recently, each filling a silver utility cart with four days’ worth of food.
In all of 2011, the cooperative ministry of the Interfaith Council of Plattsburgh and Clinton County served 2,124 households — dishing out more than 101 tons of food — but by June this year, the number of households helped had already exceeded that total by 1,112 families.
“I believe it is (the greatest need the Food Shelf has seen), because times are tough for everybody,” Hobbs said. “We’ve seen a lot of people that have been here for the first time.”
The Food Shelf — open from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, with additional hours from 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays — has served as many as 61 families in one day, and that was just a couple of weeks ago, Hobbs said.
“Today it’s slow,” she said. “We’ve probably served 20 so far, and we’re open till 12 (noon), but 60 and 61 families in the same week — that’s a lot of families.”
Families can visit the Food Shelf, which is housed within the Plattsburgh United Methodist Church at 127 Beekman St., for goods seven times per year. After that allotment has been reached, households can receive free U.S. Department of Agriculture foods twice a month, in addition to food stamps and other aid, Hobbs said.
When supply allows, those who need Interfaith Food Shelf assistance are allowed to choose items from different categories of foods, which helps eliminate waste and promotes personal respect and independence for pantry clients.
“If we have a lot, they can take a lot; if we’re limited, we hand it out, because people will come and just grab because, you know, they’re hungry. We share what we have,” Hobbs said.
“We have some people that come in and take anything, anything that you’ll give them. They’re in need.”
The Food Shelf has had to modify its distribution policies to support the increased demand.
“We used to give like mayonnaise and coffee and tea ... ketchup, but we can’t do that anymore because we don’t have the funds, so it’s mostly canned fruits and vegetables that we give and the breads that we get,” Hobbs said.
GARDENERS CAN HELP
Organizers of the outreach, which is dependent on individual contributions of food, money and volunteer time, are asking for donations, particularly from gardeners.
“Right now, we’re looking for fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden,” said Hobbs, adding that they’re thankful for regular donations from the likes of Giroux’s Poultry, Shield’s Produce and Stewart’s Shops.
“It’s getting toward the end of the gardening season, so if you have surplus, please bring the excess to us.
“I know I can’t use all the cucumbers I’ve been getting, so I’ve been bringing my cucumbers in and, you know, a lot of people will do that rather than leave them and let them spoil.”
Unexpired food can be dropped off during regular Food Shelf hours.
“We’re looking for donations of anything that people want to donate: money, food supplies, anything,” Hobbs said. “Anytime they’ve got anything in excess, remember the food shelf. There are a lot of hungry people.”
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The Plattsburgh Interfaith Food Shelf is located within the Plattsburgh United Methodist Church at 127 Beekman St., Plattsburgh.
Hours are from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday as well as 4 to 6 p.m. Friday.
To volunteer or for questions, call 562-3663.