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November 08. 2012 12:00PM

Area food pantries prepare for a busy holiday season

Another Halloween is in the books, and with Thanksgiving fast approaching, area food pantries are stockpiling so they can provide a proper dinner for those in need.

The lack of summer heating costs allows for extra dollars to be spent on food, but pantries continue to supply many of their clients year-round. For most food pantries, as the weather gets colder and the holidays roll around, the demand rises.

So, with the greater need, pantries across New Hampshire are again looking for an influx of donations.

Dave Greiner, president of the Goffstown Network Food Pantry, said he had an unusually busy summer. He still doesn’t know what that means for the holiday demand because the season has just begun. Goffstown Network sent out letters to its clients and is just starting to get responses, so a better understanding of this winter’s need will come in the next few weeks.

“As we went into this year and through the first couple months, I was cautiously optimistic or hopeful that this year was going to be a little bit better than the last several years, in terms of demand for what we provide,” Greiner said. “But unfortunately, that hasn’t panned out. Since May, we’ve been a lot busier than we have over those same months in previous years.”

When Thanksgiving gets closer, schools and businesses begin food drives to cope with the greater demand.

Barbara Brennan, chairman of the Hooksett Community Food Pantry, also said it is too early to tell how well the pantry will be prepared for the holidays. The Underhill and Memorial schools begin drives at the beginning of November, and Brennan said that will give her a better idea of what to expect. The Hooksett Community Food Pantry also has donation bins in local businesses.

“Stores have collection baskets for us,” Brennan said. “I can tell you that those are getting more filled up, so I think people are starting to realize it’s getting close to the holiday season.”

In Goffstown, the schools also participate in food drives. For Goffstown Network’s Thanksgiving program, they get assistance from drives in all the schools except the high school. Goffstown High School then holds its drive to contribute toward the Christmas program.

Brennan said another event coming up has been an accurate indicator of how the food pantry is doing in past years.

The Hooksett Community Food Pantry is involved in Scouting for Food, a nationwide event on Nov. 10. Participants leave non-perishables on their front steps, and the pantry sends volunteers to collect them.

“In years past we’ve done pretty well,” Brennan said. “A lot of times we can tell how good the season is going to be by the amount of food we get from Scouting for Food.”

Grocery stores like Shaw’s and Hannaford’s in Goffstown and Hooksett leave out collection boxes. McDonald’s and General Electric have also held food drives for the Hooksett Community Food Pantry in the past.

Food pantries benefit greatly from the donation of money, rather than just food itself. Outside the donated food, pantries also purchase goods from the New Hampshire Food Bank to provide for their clients.

The Food Bank sells food at discounted prices – 9 cents per pound – to the pantries, which then distribute it to those in need. So, if someone wishes to donate money, the pantry can get “more bang for your buck,” Greiner said.

“Money is at least as helpful as food, possibly more,” he added. “We purchase about three-quarters of the food that we use at the pantry.”

Ann Count, program manager at Bedford’s Caregivers Food Pantry for Seniors, said they most need goods like peanut butter, canned meats, pastas, fruits, vegetables and instant potatoes, but money and even gift cards help.

She said they prefer smaller, individualized goods because they are easier to pack. They also provide products like toilet paper and tissues to their clients.

The Caregivers have more than 300 clients, a rise of about 50 from last year, Count said. She began work this summer, so is fairly new to her position, but said she anticipates more growth. Hooksett also holds collection sites at the library and town hall, and Goffstown has a basket in the St. Matthews Church, which is open at different hours than the Goffstown Network pantry itself.

Of course, the best place to donate is at the pantries. Visit the food pantry websites to learn hours, other drop-off sites and an updated list of what they need most.

Brennan and Count said they will be providing turkeys for their clients this year. On Thursday, Nov. 1, the Caregivers are scheduled to send out 120 turkeys, and follow that up the next week by sending turkeys to the other half of the clients.

Although the severity of need during this year’s holiday season is still unsure, Greiner said the Goffstown Network is gearing up for what is typically their busiest months.

“The Christmas program that we do is the biggest thing we do every year, it’s very, very ambitious, but none of what we do would be possible if it weren’t for the generosity of the community,” Greiner said. “We get a huge amount of volunteer help, not just for the holiday program, but year-round.”

Pantry websites are goffstownnetwork.org and caregiversnh.org.


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