Food pantry seeks new digs

Need has steadily grown in Bethlehem along with recession

— 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.”

Becker said families in need are first paired with a social worker before they visit the pantry to find them additional help.

“Many people have no idea what is out there for them,” she said.

Becker said one of the main problems for Bethlehem residents who find themselves unemployed is they are overqualified for many entry-level positions.

“We’re seeing more people go back into the workforce after being trained to do something entirely different, but in the short term they need some help.”

The food pantry has about eight regular volunteers who help throughout the year. Sanders said the largest food drives held by local Boy Scouts, the Post Office and the library keep the pantry stocked throughout the summer and into the fall. After that, there is a delivery every two weeks of purchases from the Regional Food Bank.

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