Feed the Need: Food pantries across the Capital District brace for a lean holiday season

Unemployment has risen to levels not seen in 14 years. The stock market is tumbling. The prices of many products and services are still spiking and a number of homeowners have foreclosure on the mind.

Just in time for the holidays.

While for most people the economic downturn means forgoing a few presents or a few pounds on the turkey, others are finding that putting food on the table day to day (let alone the traditional holiday feast) seems a distant possibility. And those who are helping the needy might need help themselves.

Feeding America (formerly America's Second Harvest), a nationwide organization of 200 food banks supporting more than 700,000 programs, conducted a nationwide survey of local food banks and pantries in May and found that 99 percent of food banks reported a rise in client numbers in the previous 12 months, with the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York estimating a 20 percent jump in users, many of whom are non-traditional.

That means a lot of people in the Capital District are turning to food pantries for the first time in their lives.

New faces at the food pantry

Karie Cushing, executive director of the Franklin Community Center of Saratoga Springs, said she has noticed the trend locally.

"Traditionally we served people who were very low income; people who usually relied on social services," she said. "Now, we're seeing people who are working two or three jobs who used to live paycheck to paycheck, but just can't make ends meet anymore."

That story is being told at pantries all over. Lynda Schuyler, executive director at Food Pantries for the Capital District, a group that helps 48 pantries across Albany and Rensselaer counties meet their goals, said that 2008 will likely be a historic year.

"September was about the busiest month on record," said Schuyler. The rising cost of food has weighed heavy on many for months, and a flagging economy is pushing some over the edge. Schuyler said people tend to push off going to a pantry for as long as possible, which can be a poor choice.

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