Over 300 people in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow were assured a meal this month thanks in part to a new, grassroots food pantry that has popped up in the community.
Organizers say they are only making a dent in the needs of families and individuals who have been hard-hit by the economy and seasonal work arrangements.
"Right now we're just sort of in an emergency mode," said organizer Teri Levine as she packed items into a bag. "We're just doing it once a month right now because we don't have a 501 (non-profit status) yet."
The Community Coalition; an organized group of local religious institutions, service providers and social workers; kick-started the food panty after seeing the need in the community around Christmas.
"Kids Club and social workers in the schools saw a lot of people in need," said Susan Copley, Rector of Christ Episcopal Church where the pantry is currently housed. "What became apparent was it wasn't just people with children in need, there were the elderly and single men."
During the holiday season, the Community Coalition aided in distributing items to about 65 families. In January, a similar effort helped about 50 families. This month though, the number of individuals has again spiked, with 78 families registering to receive help.
"It's a sign of the times," Levine said. "Between January and now there are a number of individuals who have lost their jobs; this part of the population, many have seasonal work in hotels, and most of those people live in our communities."
Levine is the lead on the food pantry project. The Pocantico Hills resident was originally involved with the Boys and Girls Club (like many of the Community Coalition members), she was also the food purchaser for the Ossining food pantry, giving her an edge on how to run the start-up operation.
Levine said the Tarrytown-Sleepy Hollow food pantry is a totally different ball game than the one located in Ossining.
"They had already been around for awhile, and had a lot of fundraising and grants," she said. "We're giving everyone just a piece of that."
However, unlike some food pantries, the local service provides non-food items such as toilet paper, diapers and feminine products.
"If you have food stamps it's for food, it's not for this stuff, and this stuff is expensive," Levine said.
Supplying the pantry is based purely on donations and volunteer support – from the donated shelves to the high school students that put together care packages this month. Different religious congregations are also heavily involved; each acquires specific items to ensure there isn't too much of one thing at the pantry. For example, Temple Beth Abraham provides tuna, the Reformed Church provides rice and beans, while at Copley's church it has become a running joke to appeal for "pads and pasta." There have also been collection points at district schools, the library, local businesses and the YMCA.
"What is so good about this, is it's a non-Christ Church ministry," Copley said. "It is very much community driven, and very much involves everybody."
Levine said that the eventual goal is to get the pantry running at full speed, perhaps weekly, and to run the pantry more like a store, where individuals can pick and choose items based on their own situations. There are also plans for a refrigeration unit to eventually allow for meat and dairy product distribution.
Organizers expect, as the word gets out, that more churches and community members will get involved, and the demand on food pantry services will increase. They only hope that by that time, they will be fully prepared for the community's needy.
"We don't know if there will be 100 or 6,000 but we're starting small." Copley said. "It's really hard to know in this community how much hidden need there is, people living paycheck to paycheck, or who may not even get a paycheck at all."