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Food pantry seeks new digs

Need has steadily grown in Bethlehem along with recession

— The Bethlehem Food Pantry has been lending a helping hand to the town’s needy families since 1982, but following a recession and facing rising food costs, staff members say pantry need has increased but storage space has not.

A joint program between Bethlehem Senior Projects and the town’s Department of Senior Service, those who run the food pantry are now thinking of ways to expand. According to Senior Services Director Joyce Becker, about 1,800 people used the pantry last year and demand has tripled since 2009.

“We’re looking for someplace where we have more room,” she said. “Right now, we are just jammed. We do a lot with very little space.”

For the past 20 years, all of the food either donated or purchased by Bethlehem Senior Projects through the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York has been stored in Town Hall. Most of the food is kept hidden behind the stage curtain of the main meeting hall, but the space is also shared with a local orchestra. A small room to the left contains additional food storage, but wheelchairs, walker, and crutches are stored there as well for another Bethlehem Senior Projects program.

Jane Sanders, the town’s senior social worker, said 55 to 60 families visit the pantry each week, a great increase from several years ago. Then, only about 30 families each week were in need. Sanders said about 20 percent of visitors are seniors living off of their Social Security payments. The rest are families who need help because a member of the family has been laid off or is now on disability.

“Gas, utilities, the price of food, everything has gone up except income,” she said. “Some people may come in once a month until they get on their feet, and there are others who have used it for years. There are some who are working full time, but minimum wage doesn’t get them very far.”

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