Food Shelf sees rapid increase in clients (7/2/09)

Organization looking for donations on July Fourth

July 2, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

In the past few months, the Williston Community Food Shelf has been swamped with families and individuals needing assistance. The organization’s budget is strained and shelves are nearly empty, said Deb Beckett, the Food Shelf’s new interim president.

In hopes of acquiring food donations and raising money, Food Shelf volunteers will march in Saturday’s Independence Day Parade during Williston’s Fourth of July festivities. Beckett, who also serves as town clerk and treasurer, said the Food Shelf is an important part of the community and she hopes parade goers will be generous in donating non-perishable food or money.

“This will be an important day for us,” Beckett said.

During the Fourth of July parade, Food Shelf volunteers ride in a truck and march alongside the vehicle while accepting donations. Volunteer Ron Stankevich said Food Shelf helpers will carry bins to hold food contributions and collect monetary donations.

“We’re hoping that, at the very least, we’ll get a lot of non-perishable food items that we normally have to buy,” Stankevich said.

Stankevich said the Food Shelf constantly needs items such as peanut butter, jelly, pasta and pasta sauces.

During the fireworks display scheduled for Saturday evening, the Food Shelf truck and volunteers will again be on hand accepting donations, Beckett said.

Last year’s Independence Day parade was the first time the Williston Community Food Shelf marched. The organization was newly formed at the time and had yet to move into its space at Maple Tree Place. Former President Jill Lang and her family and friends marched and accepted some of the Food Shelf’s first donations.

Lang stepped down in April and Beckett recently became the Food Shelf’s interim president. She said the position will likely become official after a board meeting next week.

Increased need

Since the Food Shelf opened its doors at Maple Tree Place in November 2008, the number of families served has doubled. The organization originally expected to serve approximately 40 families each month, but served 75 families that November. In June, 150 families came to the Food Shelf for assistance, Beckett said. In May, it was 110 families. The increased activity puts a strain on the organization’s budget, Beckett said.

Each month, the Food Shelf budgets $1,000 for food purchases and other costs, including a monthly $250 rental fee for its second-floor location on Connor Way. In May, the Food Shelf had to spend $1,600 to keep the shelves full, Beckett said.

Recent food drives by the Essex Alliance Church and the Williston Post Office helped stock the shelves and kept monthly costs down, said Beckett. Still, it’s a month-to-month waiting game to find out what donations will come in.

“Those food drives helped us a lot,” Beckett said.“If we didn’t have those, we would have some real problems, some empty shelves.”

Beckett said many families come from outside Williston, Richmond and St. George — the core communities served by the Food Shelf. No one is turned away, she said.

“Some of these families know too many people in their own towns and they’re not comfortable going to their local food shelves,” Beckett said.

On top of that, the Food Shelf recently implemented a new summer program for students who need assistance. Volunteers are creating breakfast and lunch bags for children on free and reduced lunch programs at local schools. In the summer, students aren’t receiving that assistance when school is out, Beckett explained.

She said a letter went home to parents in the Williston School District highlighting the new program, which might also have helped increase numbers at the Food Shelf in the past two months. The summer student program is only open to the Food Shelf’s core communities.

After the Fourth of July fundraising efforts, Beckett and Stankevich said they hope the community will continue to support the Food Shelf with food drives and donations. Stankevich said he would like to organize a coin drop in Taft Corners, much like what the Williston Fire Department does for a fundraiser.

“It’ll be the first time we’ve tried something like this,” Stankevich said.