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March 18. 2013 6:25PM

Sen. Ayotte helps NH Food Bank promote its cans of 'nothing'


U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte buys three cans of nothing for $5 at Hannaford to help the New Hampshire Food Bank raise money and awareness to fight hunger. Also pictured is Hannaford Service Leader Kathy Lowell. (BENJAMIN C. KLEIN PHOTO)

NASHUA - U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte stopped at Hannaford to pick up a few cans of nothing and help fight hunger before heading back to Washington, D.C., Tuesday afternoon.

To help the New Hampshire Food Bank's Nothing Campaign, a fund-raiser and awareness campaign that has Hannaford selling empty cans for $5 a pop at every store across the state, Ayotte bought three cans - two for her children and one for her D.C. office.

With each can designed as a change jar that can be donated once full, Ayotte said her son Jack, 5, and daughter, Kate, will each get a can so they can learn to save money and then learn charity by donating them to the Food Bank. The third can will go with her to Washington, where it will sit in her office at the Capitol.

"It's a wonderful thing for families to buy one of these cans and then to use it as a family exercise to save money and then give it back to those in need," Ayotte said.

Ayotte said hunger remains a very important issue in New Hampshire, and she said, "I think hunger is an issue unfortunately that is in every state in the nation. We are blessed to have a wonderful food bank, but we obviously all hope we get to a place where we don't have 143,000 people in New Hampshire looking for their next meal," Ayotte said.

Mel Gosselin, executive director of the N.H. Food Bank, which is operated by New Hampshire Catholic Charities, said each can returned full will provide enough money to give 60 nourishing meals to people who need them.

Ayotte said fighting hunger presents different challenges in different parts of the state. She said the North Country is particularly hit hard by hunger due to lack of access to services due to geographic and transportation issues.

Gosselin said about a quarter of the people in Manchester don't know where their next meal is coming from, a rate that is more than double the rest of the state. She also said that for unknown reasons, it has been observed and reported that the state's homeless population appears to be migrating to Concord, putting greater strain on its social services.

Gosselin said statewide, the Food Bank has seen a 40 percent increase in demand for its services in the last year.

"The Food Bank is working really hard to meet these challenges," Ayotte said.

While saying that federal programs like the federal nutrition program provide "an important safety net," Ayotte said the program could be streamlined more, making it more cost-efficient while at the same time ensuring that needed services reach those who require them.

Gosselin said the Food Bank gives out food to more than 400 agencies around the state, including food pantries and soup kitchens. Last year, it gave out more than 8 million pounds of food and operates primarily with private donations from individuals and businesses. Gosselin explained that no state or federal money is given to the nonprofit, and staff focus on outreach, education, and culinary job training.

"I am impressed with the way people in the private sector have supported the Food Bank, which has also received bipartisan support from around the state. The Food Bank relies on average people to donate and volunteer their time," Ayotte said.

Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said hunger is an issue Hannaford works very hard to fight. He explained that along with helping with the Nothing campaign, every Hannaford in the state is partnered with a local food pantry to ensure that no food goes to waste and that hungry people are fed.

Gosselin said she is very grateful to both Ayotte and Hannaford for their support.

"I am going to put this can in my suitcase now because I am heading to Washington, D.C.," Ayotte said, "but I urge people to go to their local grocery store and buy a can."

bklein@newstote.com


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