CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – Late winter is usually a time when food banks are heavily trafficked and lightly stocked, experts said. Post-holiday charitable giving drops off, and seasonal outdoor work has not yet picked up, forcing many food banks to provide little variety for a large community of under-employed workers.
“We’ve had a few more families coming in, and days are busy when we don’t expect them to be busy,” said Shirley Gillis, 30-year veteran volunteer of the Cortlandt Emergency Food Bank, located in Asbury Methodist Church in Croton. An unexpected burst of food drives has kept the emergency food bank in additional provisions this winter.
The food bank experienced a 15 percent increase over last year in clients. The Cortlandt Emergency Food Bank served 113 households in February, 351 people total, which is a 15 percent increase over 2010 according to Jordy Bell of the food bank.
Croton-Harmon’s Carrie E. Tompkins Elementary had a “Soup-er” can collection drive before the Super Bowl, the Hendrick Hudson Education Association donated non-perishables and there are still a few days left in the Croton Free Library’s February food drive. All of these efforts together have made winter a little less stark for families who use the pantry's monthly emergency food service, volunteers said.
Christina Rohatynskyj, executive director of the Food Bank for Westchester, said the need now is greater than ever.
“The requests for food keep increasing. Our agencies keep requesting more and more food and keep giving out more and more food,” said Rohatynskyj. The Food Bank for Westchester just moved to a larger facility.
According to a Feeding America hunger study done in 2010 of the Food Bank for Westchester, as many as 104,600 different people used the food bank in one year. That’s roughly 11 percent of the population of Westchester and 8.2 percent of Westchester lives under the federal poverty line, according to the US Census Bureau’s 2010 estimates. The poverty threshold for a single person under 65-years-old with no children is $11,344 in gross income, for two people the poverty threshold is $14,602.
Rohatynskyj said, based on what she hears from the 78 member pantries and thousands of clients the Food Bank for Westchester serves, the economy is grinding forward, slowly but surely. She said she believes this recession will end with a “big picture” shift in labor needs, not a simple replacement of positions.
“New York seems to be a very slow picker-upper. I’m thinking that the jobs that are occurring are probably in the service sector, low paying positions. The competition for the jobs is fierce," she said. "People with degrees are applying for customer service jobs and many are being told they’re too qualified, there’s not a lot of diversity in positions.”
Cortlandt Emergency Food Bank often supplies families non-food items to help people “feel human,” said Gillis. Donated toys for children, shampoo, bath soaps and feminine hygiene products are appreciated by clients, she said. After the Croton Free Library’s most recent book sale, the food bank even gave away the unsold books.
“Things like that are a nice addition to them coming in on a Saturday,” said Gillis. “We’re the recipient of wonderful people thinking of food drives.”
The food bank is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. A referral is required to come for more than one month, but nobody is turned away on their first visit.