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School supply donations needed now more than ever

Bethlehem Food Pantry now serving 1,600, triple from 18 months ago

It might seem like school just let out for the summer, but before too long, it's going to be time for back-to-school shopping.

That's especially true for families in need. For an increasing number of local parents, outfitting growing children with clothes and finding a seemingly ever-increasing list of classroom supplies can be a real challenge.

That's why for the past 20 years or so, the Bethlehem Food Pantry has held a summer school supply drive for families in town who use the pantry. It's going to be the biggest year ever, with about 1,600 signed up to access the food pantry right now.

[The need has] tripled over the last year and a half with the way the economy is. It's a tough year; people are struggling, said Joyce Becker, director of the Town of Bethlehem's Senior Services department, which runs the pantry.

Families with children also can qualify for a summer nutrition program the pantry coordinates with Cornell Cooperative Extension. It provides the families of kids who qualify for free or reduced school lunches with fresh food in the summer, and there are even cooking classes to help families make the best use of the ingredients.

The food pantry knows that for many of the families who are just getting by to begin with, back to school supplies can come out of necessities like the food budget.

"Back to school means not only school supplies but the clothes and everything else that goes with it. It's a big dent in the budget, and it usually has to come from the household budget," Becker said.

The food pantry is collecting donations until Aug. 8. Donations will go to students living in Bethlehem, who attend Bethlehem Central, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk or Guilderland Central school districts.

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