Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings
By Michael Turton
Nothing says Thanksgiving more than a family sitting down together to share a bountiful meal. For some families, thanks for the meal goes to the Philipstown Food Pantry, which provides food to area families in need year-round. Its mission somehow seems even more poignant this time of year when so many others are able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner without giving it a second thought.
Poverty is not a term that describes how average residents of Garrison, Cold Spring and other parts of Philipstown live. But there are people here in need of even the basics, not the least of which is food. The Philipstown Food Pantry, a mission of the First Presbyterian Church of Philipstown, is based in the church hall at 10 Academy St., in Cold Spring. Andrea Bach serves as coordinator.
“These are not people who sit around home doing nothing,” Bach said, describing those who rely on the pantry for support. “These are the working poor. For some that means holding two or three jobs – and still there isn’t enough money at the end of the month.”
Helping the hungry
This year, the pantry provided all the ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner to more than 30 families. Baskets included a large turkey, gravy, potatoes, fresh vegetables, pie and more. Turkeys were again provided by a single, anonymous donor with the rest of the special meal courtesy of donations from many members of the Philipstown community and area businesses.
About 60 families are registered with the food pantry including as many as 10 seniors. On a normal Saturday morning, 20 to 25 families come to pick up food, but at Thanksgiving, traffic in and out of the pantry increases. Bach said that this year has been more difficult for some families, in part because social security payments have not increased in three years. The food stamp program has also recently cut back benefits.
“The law was changed in 2010 and food stamp cuts started this October,” she said. The initial decrease was $11 per person. “That may not seem much to you and me, but to someone who budgets every penny, it’s a lot. We’ve added four or five new families since October,” Bach said, adding that food stamp benefits can only be used for food – not personal-care items such as soap, shampoo or toothpaste. The pantry does accept personal care products as donations.
But when asked what kind of donations the pantry needs most, Bach didn’t have to search for the answer. “More and more it’s money” she said, explaining that she can purchase food at much less cost through two state food banks located in Cornwall and Latham, N.Y. There she pays only 16 cents per pound for food purchased for the pantry. To put that in perspective, if someone were to donate $16 instead of buying and donating 10 cans of tomatoes at $1.60 each, the food pantry could use the cash donation to buy 100 cans.
The food pantry is strictly a volunteer effort and those involved would have it no other way. “Most of the volunteers here have been here forever,” Bach said.
Karen Tangen, a deacon in the Presbyterian Church, has been the assistant coordinator at the pantry for several years. Her reason for volunteering is personal. “I was one of 11 kids,” Tangen said. “If we would have had a food pantry it would have helped a lot.” For Tangen, a story from just a couple of years ago illustrates the true spirit of the food pantry. “Three triplet girls, about eight to 10 years old, had a birthday party,” she said. “But they didn’t want presents. Instead they asked for canned food or money to donate to the food pantry.”
Susan Casement volunteers at the pantry along with her son, Steven, a senior at Haldane High School and a former Scout leader. “It’s just something we always wanted to do. You don’t find time for it – until you make time for it,” she said. One thing that impresses Casement about the operation is that nothing goes to waste – with leftovers going to other local organizations such as St. Christopher’s Inn at Graymoor and the Walter Hoving Home in Garrison.
She also sees the pantry as a place where community residents give of themselves. “I’m constantly amazed when I see local residents show up with a huge box of fresh produce from their own garden.”
Eleven-year-old Julie Geller may hold the record as the pantry’s youngest volunteer. She started at age three, although she admits she didn’t really start “working” there until about age 7. “I like to help the people who come here, she said. “I realize how fortunate we are.”
Although a bit older, Sara Dulaney is a rookie compared to Geller, having started as a food pantry volunteer six months ago. “It’s just the right thing to do – and a simple thing to do for community service,” the Cold Spring resident and retiree said.
The Philipstown Food Pantry was established more than 30 years ago. To be a beneficiary, applicants must live in Philipstown and fill out a basic form. The pantry operates each Saturday from 9 to 10 a.m. To learn more visit presbychurchcoldspring.org and click on “Making a Difference.”
Photos by M. Turton