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Food Pantries say need is acute this holiday season in the Capital Region

 State Assemblymember Pat Fahy of the 109th district addresses reporters as Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan peruses an information packet as Food Pantries of the Capital District Executive Director Natasha Pernicka looks on.
Dave Lucas
State Assemblymember Pat Fahy of the 109th district addresses reporters as Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan peruses an information packet as Food Pantries of the Capital District Executive Director Natasha Pernicka looks on.

Since the onset of the pandemic, food pantries have endured rising demand for groceries. Now, the pantries say there is a dire need locally for additional year-end support to keep their shelves stocked.

The 70-organization strong Food Pantries of the Capital District shared results of a recent survey, saying community support helps the organization provide 2.7 million meals annually for the region's hungry. Natasha Pernicka is the group's Executive Director.

"83% of food pantries in our coalition are reporting that they're seeing an increase in service levels," said Pernicka. "This is really because a lot of the federal assistance programs have ended or are scaling back, and combining that with inflation, so many people now are really struggling to make ends meet. 45% of our pantries reported not feeling that they have adequate funding to provide the services to their community. 48% of pantries reported not feeling that their current funding will last throughout the year."

Speaking at the St. Vincent de Paul Pantry on Albany's Madison Avenue, Pernicka says gasoline expenses related to food acquisition and delivery have doubled from $13,000 in 2021 to more than $26,000 so far this year. Add to that a 19% increase in referrals for food pantry services.

Pernicka is asking folks to step up and call their local food pantry to find out what their specific needs are.

"We are asking you to go above and beyond this holiday season to help us get through this winter," Pernicka said. "And make sure that our pantries have enough food to serve our neighbors in need. If people would like to get involved, you can go to the food pantries.org. If you would like to help your specific neighborhood food pantry, we have a food pantry map on our website, [where] you can find the food pantries that exist in your own neighborhood, throughout New York State."

State Assemblymember Pat Fahy of the 109th district says the increasing price of a basket of groceries cuts across all social and economic lines.

"We like to think we're post pandemic that we're coming out of the worst of it even if COVID is on the upswing yet again," Fahy said. "But we'd like to think that the worst is over, but because of the pandemic, because of Ukraine, because of all the supply chain issues, that has hurt, that has fueled inflation as well. That has hurt. The bottom line is it is hurting every day, families, individuals, right across the board."

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, also a Democrat, says food pantries are critically important to the Capital District community.

"Food insecurity causes and is often the root cause of what can be then a chain of events that really negatively impact our families," said Sheehan. "They negatively impact children's ability to learn in school. They negatively impact people's ability to be able to manage their finances and figure out how they're going to be able to stay in their apartment, pay their utility bills, and be able to afford food. And so it causes stress, and anxiety, all of which we know contributes to poor health outcomes. So this is a really critical piece of what we need to do to ensure that our families have what they need, particularly in the winter time."

Pernicka says the pantries are looking toward the Capitol for help.

"We are calling on Governor Hochul to increase the HPNAP budget," said Pernicka. "It's the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance budget. In her executive budget proposal, we're asking for an increase to $63 million dollars in HPNAP funding for the next year. That HPNAP funding goes directly to help pantries purchase food from their food banks."

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Individuals and organizations wishing to support the pantries' "Above and Beyond" year-end campaign can follow this link.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.