By HEATHER NELLIS
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- Hannaford's donation to the Faith Soup Kitchen Friday will supplement local holiday food basket handouts, which are reportedly suffering from a downswing in food pantry donations.
The past four weeks, Hannaford shoppers shelled out $10 bucks a pop for Helping Hands -- food-filled boxes to donate to Amsterdam's needy families.
On Friday, the grocery store's management loaded up 50 of them with volunteers Ron and Nora Bartman for transport to the Faith Soup Kitchen at the Amsterdam Masonic Lodge.
Another round will be donated to that soup kitchen as the program continues throughout the holiday season, says Hannaford Store Manager Mike Wickien.
"The program has done well," said Van Wickien. "Our consumers know how bad it is out there, and they try to help as much as they can."
The Helping Hands program started roughly five years ago as a corporate-wide initiative, but the boxes are donated back to the local community's food pantries. In the two past years, its benefited Amsterdam's Centro Civico and Salvation Army, respectively.
"We keep it close to home," Van Wickien said.
This year, the boxes will be split between the Faith Soup Kitchen, which is sponsored by a coalition of parishioners of from local churches, and a local veterans organization to be determined.
Each pre-packaged box includes a day's worth of food, with pasta and tomato sauce, canned vegetables, cereals, macaroni and cheese, rice and soup.
Ron Bartman said the Faith Soup Kitchen, which is held every Monday and Wednesday, will hold sign-ups on Nov. 13 and 18 at the lodge for people seeking one of the boxes, which will be handed out Dec. 2.
"We're putting together a list, and cross-referencing it with other organizations to make sure everything is shared equally among the community," he said.
Bartman explained that Catholic Charities, the Fulmont Community Action Agency and the Salvation Army disburse food baskets around the holidays. Cross-referencing the sign-ups ensures some families don't receive multiple baskets, because that might mean others get nothing.
The need is too great for that to happen, Bartman said.
"Numbers are down this year," Bartman said of gift baskets handed out by Catholic Charities. He volunteers for both the food pantry, and the Faith Soup Kitchen. "At the food pantry, they handed out 80 baskets for Thanksgiving last year. But they've only got half of that this year."
It will be the same for Christmas time.
"There were over 100 for Christmas last year, but this year, we're down to about 75. They've maxed themselves out. So Hannaford's donation will be helpful, and that's why we're going to hand out the boxes between the two holidays."
"We're just trying to get everyone covered," Bartman added.
The issue is symptomatic of the empty shelves at the food pantry, Bartman said. He volunteers there every Thursday.
Bartman explained that the food pantry's supply is available in-part because of disbursement from the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York. People in need are offered a 20-item grocery list to choose from, but the food bank has been out of 12 of those items in recent weeks.
"The shelves have been really slim," Bartman said. "This past Thursday, we served chicken for the first time in weeks. We haven't had anything but hot dogs and bologna. There's been little meat, no milk to speak of. In serving the Hispanic community, we haven't even had rice since September."
The food pantry has struggled to save some items for the holiday food baskets, explaining for the reduction in the number the food pantry is able to offer, Bartman said.
That has him working overtime to ensure there's food to serve at the Faith Soup Kitchen's annual Thanksgiving dinner. Hannaford will donate the turkeys, and others have offered to chip in, but help is still needed, Bartman said.
Anyone interested in donating to the soup kitchen can contact Bartman at 842-4575.