PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh Interfaith Food Shelf has seen an increase of clients in the first quarter of 2023 relative to last year.
“Looking at January and February, we had approximately 300 more households coming in requesting food, which resulted in about 700 more people that we served,” Dorothy Latta, Food Shelf coordinator, said.
“I was a little surprised because February we had a couple of snow days and we were closed, but we still ended up with more people than last year.”
One thing Latta is keeping an eye on is the SNAP benefits, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called Food Stamps.
“The SNAP benefits during the pandemic, there was supplemental assistance given to people to help out during that time,” she said.
“Those benefits ended up in February of this year by federal mandate. Now, New York State did give one month extra assistance. We know just from historic data that a good number of our clients do receive these SNAP benefits.
“One thing that is going to happen for people is that these pandemic benefits started, I believe, it was in March of 2020. They have had this extra assistance, it’s like a bonus. They’ve had this and the bonus is no longer going to be there.”
People are going to get the impression that their SNAP benefits have been cut.
“They really weren’t cut,” she said.
“They just went back to not having the bonus anymore. People had them for a couple of years, you know, this extra money. With the cost of food having gone up so much what they used to get isn’t going to buy the same thing now that it might have when they had their original assistance.
“These supplements were really pretty substantial. Looking up some numbers that I saw, over half of the people the benefits were around $180 a month extra. This ‘bonus money’ or supplement kind of ranged between $95 and $400 for people. Then, they had it for a couple of years.”
Latta anticipates a hard hit for people who were used to having bonus assistance.
“Now with the increased cost of food, that’s going to be a major adjustment for them purchasing food,” she said.
“So we’re kind of keeping our eye on that with the anticipation that a number of people in the community are really going to find the assistance they had received for food is not going to be there anymore. We anticipate that the numbers may increase.”
COST OF FOOD
In terms of the organization’s operation, the Food Shelf’s biggest challenge right now is the cost of food.
“We order the majority of our food from the Regional Food Bank (of Northeastern New York) in Latham,” she said.
“Because we are a member of this group, we also are eligible to receive food at no cost that is supplied through the USDA. Because we get this ‘free food’ that brings down the average cost of food. We order 20,000 lbs, and some of it’s free. Before 2020, our average cost of food was somewhere between 35 cents and 50 cents a pound. It got diluted out a bit by this free food. Over the last year or so, the amount of food that was provided through USDA that disappeared. There was not very much. Last year in 2022, the average cost of food for us was over a $1 a pound. Instead of paying 45 to 50 cents a pound, we were paying $1 a pound.”
Through the end of January/February, the Food Shelf ordered 39,000 pounds of food.
“We typically order about 24,000 to 26,000 pounds a food a month,” she said.
“The average cost this year for us has been about 98 cents a pound. We are paying almost double what we paid a few years ago for food. That’s related to not only not having available this ‘free USDA food,’ but also the supply chain. The cost of food has just gone up as everybody knows. So from a financial standpoint, I would say that is our biggest challenge right now.”
In 2022, the Food Shelf’s expenses exceeded its income by $135,000.
“We’re very fortunate because a lot of people in the community made very generous donations,” she said.
“About 70 percent of our support does come from the local community. It’s not from the government or outside grants. So we really had a nice little reserve of money, and we have been able to continue operating. We’ve had to sort of dig into our resources a little bit, and modify our food distribution somewhat. Yet, we’ve been able to continue to serve everybody that comes through our door.”
Other area food pantries include the Salvation Army, St. Joseph’s Outreach and JCEO. (SEE BOX)
“We are not in competition with them for serving people,” Latta said.
“We have a really nice relationship that if they get donations of food, maybe more than they can use at a time, they call us. We share with each other.”
The Grateful Fed was held several years until the pandemic crested.
“There was some discussion about doing it this year,” she said.
“The Grateful Fed, in previous years, was really an opportunity not as a route to raise money but to say thank you to the community.
“We did this as an event with entertainment, and people coming, and free admission. People did donate or bring food, but our main purpose was to say thank you to the community. We have not been able to do that in the last few years.”
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