"I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world." -Richard Dawkins

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


It’s the Holiday Season, and as all of us are gearing up for our feast days and celebrations, gathering around with families in the warmth of our homes and stocking our pantries for big dinners, there are people out there who are going without.

It is not my intention to bring a sobriety to anyone’s joy this month. We’re faced with enough of that with every food drive, toy drive and bell ringer we encounter from now until the new year. But it is my intention to give a moment of pause to the reality of the world out there, and I hope you’ll read this and do the same.

Our economy has taken a nosedive in the past few years, and though it’s the natural ebb and flow of things, it doesn’t make it less hard. I speak from experience. Many families just like yours and mine are facing hard times. Not enough money for Christmas, for Thanksgiving, or even, perhaps, for groceries this week.

With these people in mind, I headed out to the Jonesville United Methodist Church in Clifton Park to talk with the ladies who run the weekly food pantry. The Helping Hands Food Pantry has had its doors open to the community for thirty-eight years, and they’re still going strong. They serve all families in the Shenendehowa school district, but will never turn away anyone who needs help, no matter where they’re from.

“We once had someone come from Troy,” said Sandy, the director. “We’ll give them help once, and supply them with the information for food pantries in their own area.” She went on to tell me that they help about two-hundred families a month. A staggering number, when you think about the size of Clifton Park, and the average demographic of their families.

When I spoke with Pat, another worker, she acknowledged sadly that since the economy shift she’s seen more and more families needing to come in for help. “It’s rewarding to be able to help the same people time and time again.” She said, but admits it’s hard to see those families go on needing this kind of assistance for so long.

“We’re able to be generous because the community is generous,” Sandy says, as she explains that at this food pantry, patrons are able to fill a whole shopping cart with goods, whereas most pantries simply offer a single box. As I tour the kitchen and stock rooms, I see what she means. Donations from local Price Choppers, Stewarts Shops and Pepperidge Farms crowd shelves and tabletops, along with the some thousand pounds of food they purchase each week from the regional food bank with donation money.

Even schools, postal workers, and the Boy Scouts work hard throughout the year to bring in donations for the pantry. The Scouts are especially active. “We have birthday boxes that they put together for us,” Pat explains with a smile. “They have cake mix and candles and some plates and napkins and things for a party, that way if anyone comes in and says, ‘my child’s birthday is coming up,’ we can give them that.”

As I stand there talking to these women, I take note of the people I’m surrounded by. Serving twenty to thirty-six families a week, it’s easy to see that I could be among them. Each and every woman here is like me, mothers struggling to get meals on the table. I take special note of one mother who has her sixteen year old daughter with her, and that daughter has her new baby with her. Three generations looking to catch a break. I feel for them- I have three generations in my own house and we’re in the very same boat.

The Capital District is full of these organizations, programs for the community, by the community. If you or anyone you know is having a hard time making ends meet this holiday season, please; avail yourselves. “There shouldn’t be [any stigma].” Pat says gently when I mention that many women are too proud to seek help for their families. Worse still for the men of the house. “That’s what we’re here for.”

For information about the Food Pantry that will serve your address call: Food Pantries for the Capital District M-F 8:30am to 4pm (518) 458 -1167 or visit http://www.foodpantries.net/

For a full list of area locations offering free Thanksgiving dinners for families in need, visit WTEN’s comprehensive listing at http://www.wten.com/global/story.asp?s=11576954

Originally written for Kids Fun Plaza magazine on 11/21/2011. Yes, I own my content.

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