BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Residents and businesses are still snowed in after a massive winter storm this week. For families already struggling to get food on the table, that also means not being able to get to a food pantry.
Newark Valley, in Tioga County, received the most snowfall of any area hit by the storm, with 44 inches of snow covering the village.
Sue Hills coordinates holiday food distribution at Project Neighbor in Newark Valley. Hills said she’s worried about how the organization will get five days worth of food to clients who are snowed in.
“Over 85 families are depending on this food for their Christmas dinners, so we are very concerned about being able to get the plowing done and being able to get our clients in because they might not be able to get out of their own driveways,” Hills said.
Project Neighbor is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the snow didn’t stop in some areas until early Thursday morning. Pantries across the region were forced to close for the day.
In anticipation of the storm, Saint Patrick’s Church in Binghamton, where snow accumulations were close to 41 inches in some spots, gave families extra groceries and winter clothes to take home Wednesday.
Barb Donnelly, who coordinates the church’s pantry, said they served more than 300 people that day.
Having kids home from school, where they may receive meals, requires more food in the fridge than usual.
“If you have young teenage boys at home, they eat a lot more when they’re home 24 hours a day,” Donnelly said.
Both Hills and Donnelly stressed that many of the people who come to the pantries have been laid off from jobs in hospitality since the start of the pandemic and are navigating community services for the first time.
While many of the businesses that closed during the statewide COVID-19 shutdown have since reopened, the number of people coming to the pantry is growing, Donnelly said.
“The need is crazy. It’s crazy how much it’s elevated. I don’t think people realize it’s a need that not everyone’s talking about, but they need it,” Donnelly explained. “They don’t wear it on their shoulder, per se.”
At the start of the pandemic, Saint Patrick’s pantry reached approximately 24 families each day. Donnelly said it helped 150 households each day last week.
According to a study by Northwestern, close to one in four households in the United States have experienced food insecurity this year.
In 2019, USDA reported that 13.6 percent of households with children experienced food insecurity. That number more than tripled this year, according to the Northwestern study, to 43 percent of households.
New people come from across the Southern Tier every day, Donnelly said, as pandemic era lay-offs continue and unemployment benefits dwindle, or are cut off entirely.
Donnelly said she knows people who come to the pantry from as far as Lisle, in northern Broome County, and Bainbridge, in Chenango County. Unlike some pantries in the region, there is no limit on how frequently a person may come and no identification required, either.
“If I need to go to the grocery store, I go every day,” Donnelly said. “So they should, too.”
Attendance typically peaks at the end of the month, she added. The pantry has served close to 500 individual household members on a single day.
For Hills, that need is personal.
“I needed that pantry, and that pantry was there when I needed [it],” Hills said. “They carried me through on some pretty rough times.”
She’s now paying it forward. For her, that means making sure the Christmas packages get to families on Saturday.
“There is no plan B. We’ll get that parking lot plowed one way or another,” Hills said. “I’ll get people up there, we’ll volunteer…we’ll have shovels. We’ll get it cleared. It’ll be ready for them on Saturday.”
Storm clean-up continues around the region.