Williston Food Shelf hungry for donations

July 28, 2011

By Steven Frank
Observer staff
Cathy Michaels, president of the Williston Community Food Shelf, is working through a difficult period of increasing demand and decreasing supply. (File photo)

Faced with a still fragile economy and a time of year when donations are typically at their lowest, the Williston Community Food Shelf is dealing with high demand and low supply.

A total of 176 families came to the food shelf in June; 15 of which were new clients and 47 of which visited twice.

“Since we opened (almost three years ago) we have always seen a spike in the summer,” said Cathy Michaels, president of the Williston Community Food Shelf, which serves Williston, St. George, Essex and Richmond. “I think a lot of it are those who qualify for free or reduced lunch who are now home. That adds up to about 10 extra meals per child. Then, if you have two or three kids — think about it — it’s a lot.”

Michaels added that summer has also been the season that’s yielded the fewest donations every year since the food shelf’s inception.

However, Michaels is hopeful that a few innovative approaches will help bridge the gap to the “season of giving” around the holidays. A booth at the Williston Independence Day parade raised $920 and approximately 100 pounds of food. A table at the “Groovin’ on the Green” summer-long concert at Maple Tree Place is also producing supplies. In addition, clients are also starting to reap the benefits of this year’s stock from Williston’s Plant a Row for the Hungry, which is part of a national grassroots program that the Observer started locally four years ago.

“We’re seeing lettuce, squash and green beans. It’s nice to be able to offer that. You don’t see that in a lot of food shelves,” Michaels said.

Another unique element to the Williston Community Food Shelf is that clients get an experience similar to one they would find in a grocery store. They receive carts upon entering and can shop with volunteers.

“Most food shelves give you a pre-packed box of food, which can have some items that won’t be used and go to waste,” Michaels said.

Michaels added that her clients are “very grateful” and that the majority of them are employed. Much of that is a reflection of the economy, which has resulted in wages not keeping up with cost of living increases.

“Forty-seven second visits doesn’t indicate an improvement in the economy,” Michaels said.

In places in and around Williston, the amount of need is surprising to others, according to Michaels.

“I don’t think there is awareness,” she said. “People think of Williston as an affluent town … But there are people in need here, just like everywhere else.”

In addition to donations, Michaels is looking for more volunteers and fundraising ideas. She also wants prospective clients to understand that it’s OK to ask for help and that’s why the food shelf is there.

“It’s hard for people to swallow their pride,” Michaels said. “Some people can feel shame but you know what? This can be any of us at any time.”

The Williston Community Food Shelf is located at 300 Cornerstone Drive, Suite 115, in Williston. Its open Tuesday, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Thursday, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.; and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.