Stepping Up To The Plate

Numerous residents rely on food pantries in Chautauqua County to provide healthy meals for themselves and their families.

Thursday, the Food Bank of Western New York received a $10,000 grant from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, which will aid in acquiring and distributing food to all of the agencies that it serves.

According to Michael Billoni, Food Bank of WNY public and community relations director, the organization currently gathers and distributes food to 334 member agencies in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie and Niagara counties. In 2012, it distributed 10,255,199 pounds of food, or 1,035,354 meals, to 34,000 households, for 37,000 individuals, including 7,800 seniors.

“Obtaining and distributing food is important to us and why we’re so excited to announce this grant from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation,” said Billoni.

Out of the 334 agencies that the Food Bank of WNY works with, 13 percent of those agencies are located in Chautauqua County. Every month, 11,460 individuals in this community rely on the services of the Food Bank of WNY. Almost 5,000 of them are infants and children. Each and every month, 127,000 lbs of food comes down here from Buffalo, and 20,000 lbs of that is fresh produce. That equates to over 123,000 meals distributed in this community each and every month.

“We’re very excited about today’s announcement,” said Marylou Borowiak, Food Bank of WNY president and CEO. “We’re currently facing a 5.6 percent reduction in funding from the Department of Health. What that equates to in the big picture for the four counties is a reduction of more than $183,000, or more than 830,000 meals. We have to find a way to make up that deficit, and if you ask any one of our agencies, they’ll tell you that the need is only increasing.”

Currently, pantries throughout the Jamestown area are feeling the effects of the impending closure of the Joint Neighborhood Project. According to Borowiak, more than 600 families are being impacted by this change.

“Christine Rivera, our agency services director, is working very closely with Patty Perlee at the Joint Neighborhood Project, Jolene Holliday at the Salvation Army, Sue Colwell at the St. Susan Center, and some of the other agencies,” said Borowiak. “Our primary goal is to take care of those 600 families. As a food bank and a community, we need to make sure that these agencies have not only the necessary food, but also the equipment and resources they need to serve the influx of people.”

Once Borowiak and the Food Bank of WNY realized there was a need that had to be met, the organization immediately reached out to Randy Sweeney and the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation to see what could be done to help.

“Once again they found a way to help support us and help the less fortunate in this community,” said Borowiak. “We could not possibly continue to do what we do without the support of Randy and his team, as well as the other foundations in this community.”

During the event held at the Jamestown branch of the Food Bank of WNY, located at the Gateway Center, Sweeney, Chautauqua Region Community Foundation executive director, presented the grant to Borowiak in front of an audience that included representatives from the Food Bank member agencies in Chautauqua County as well as other county foundations. The grant will enable the Food Bank to acquire and distribute nutritious food to residents in need throughout Chautauqua County. It comes at a critical time because children who rely on free or subsidized lunches at school do not receive them during the summer months.

“Years ago the board of directors of the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation included in their strategic plan a provision to provide resources for food distribution to our impoverished neighbors,” said Sweeney. “We made it a priority to address this issue if it ever came up. Since 2008, we’ve granted about $50,000 to the Food Bank through different initiatives. We are pleased that a reliable, well-run organization like the Food Bank of WNY helps us to keep our promise to our community and our donors.”

Jolene Holliday, of the Salvation Army, and Sue Colwell, St. Susan Center executive director, were also on hand at the event. Following the presentation of the grant, they praised the help of the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, which allows organizations such as the ones that they work for to continue to serve the community.

“As a member agency of the Food Bank of WNY, this is a very exciting moment for the pantries in Chautauqua County,” said Holliday. “We’re all here because of everyone’s commitment to fighting hunger in Chautauqua County, and this grant from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation will allow pantries to continue to provide food to those that struggle with food insecurity issues. During these difficult financial times it can be a challenge for pantries to adequately provide healthy food for their clientele.”

According to Holliday, area pantries can purchase food for roughly 14 cents per pound through the Food Bank of WNY. The Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, through this donation, has given pantries the ability to obtain more healthy foods for those in need.

“We have an amazing relationship with the Food Bank of WNY and all of the foundations, and it’s because of that that we’re able to keep our doors open seven days a week, 361 days a year,” said Colwell. “I don’t know where all of our clients would be without the pantries, because we really are making a difference.

“The Chautauqua Region Community Foundation has been a long-term partner of the Food Bank in our hunger fighting endeavors in Chautauqua County,” said Borowiak. “We are thrilled and grateful for this tremendous grant, which will enable us to provide 45,455 meals to families in need.”

The Food Bank of WNY is the primary hunger relief organization in Western New York, obtaining and then distributing food to member agencies such as pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, after school programs and senior citizen centers. For more information about the Food Bank of WNY, call 852-1305 or visit www.foodbankwny.org.