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Binghamton Pantry Expands Outreach Amid Winter Obstacles

Winter Food Insecurity Line spot 1 - WEB EDITED

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — A line forms outsideSt. Patrick’s Church in Binghamton every weekday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There, people can pick up fresh groceries for their entire household, no I.D. or proof of income required.

Barb Donnelly, who sits at the helm of the church’s pantry, said its volunteers aim to serve people as quickly as possible. That way, clients aren’t standing out in the cold for long.

Volunteers offer hot lunches, or chocolate chip cookies straight from the oven, while people wait in line. On one freezing, but sunny, Wednesday morning in February, Donnelly passed out sausage sandwiches while another volunteer filled cups with coffee and juice.

That day, the pantry served 42 households, feeding a combined 180 people. On average, the church provides groceries to roughly 50 households daily.

In May of last year, St. Patrick’s served 2,259 lunches. That number jumped to 3,004 in December, but fell to 2,258 in January. The decrease in attendance may correspond with the freezing sidewalks and heavy snowfall across the Binghamton area this winter.

It’s also harder for people to get to the church in the winter.

“Transportation’s a huge problem for them to get here,” Donnelly explained. “The winter’s been harder. But it’s good, today’s not bad. It’s a little warmer than last week.”

Around half of her clients walk or bike to the church on Binghamton West Side, even on frigid days. Bus passes are expensive, and Broome County Transit’s policy manual states all personal items must fit on the rider’s lap or between their feet, limiting the number of bags a client can take with them.

Still, numbers have soared since the pandemic began, as have the church’s inventory. Stacks of donated clothing fill two classrooms to the brim and furniture is stored in a warehouse. Residents can request as many items as they need for the whole family a week in advance.

Each day, a truck from Broome Bounty, a food recovery program associated with the Broome County Council of Churches, delivers crates of fresh produce, baked goods and non-perishables to St. Patrick’s. By the end of the day, most of that food is gone.

“The need is bigger. I think because the unemployment’s run out, that type of thing is affecting it, and the jobs aren’t coming back—especially waitstaff and hospitality workers,” Donnelly said. “But we’re getting more food. It’s great. We’re helping.”

A recent analysis from Feeding America projects that food insecurity has jumped by as much as five percent in the Southern Tier during the pandemic.

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Donnelly said she meets new families every day. On Wednesday, Amanda Barnes was one of them.

It was her first time getting groceries from a pantry. Barnes said she worked as an office manager, but recently lost her job.

“Unemployment has taken like three months to get all my money, and [the Department of Social Services] won’t help me with food stamps,” Barnes said. “I have children to feed, so this was my last resort.”

Barnes isn’t alone. According to the Brookings Institution, more than a quarter of all U.S. households with children are experiencing food insecurity.

Across the country, 50 million families are experiencing food insecurity because of the pandemic.

Barnes found out about the pantry from her cousin, who is experiencing homelessness. She said she is thankful St. Patrick’s can help, but there are still other expenses to worry about.

“I have a car—a car that I have a car payment on that I’m freaking out that I need to get all my money together so I don’t lose my car either,” Barnes said.

Barnes lives in Whitney Point, in northern Broome County. She needs that car to make what can be a 30-minute drive to Binghamton.

Volunteers at St. Patrick’s said they serve people who travel from even farther towns, like Bainbridge in Chenango County.

The pantry is now partnering with schools and churches across the region to get food closer to people in rural areas. Extra food is brought to pantries in Windsor and Whitney Point, and anything leftover or rotting is given to a pig farm.

“We kind of all support each other, we’ve all got the same common mission,” Donnelly said.

Residents can pick up food, clothing and toiletries Monday through Friday. St. Patrick’s Church is located at 9 Leroy Street in Binghamton.