News of Otsego County

Lord’s Table

As Need Grows, Local Food Banks Welcoming Needy


As Need Grows,

Local Food Banks

Welcoming Needy

Henry Korte- kaas and Lord’s Table Director Joyce Miller serve takeout pizza. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

MILFORD – In an average shopping trip, Laura Eggleston, Milford Food Pantry director, might buy 1,100 pounds of food to serve their 39 households.

On Monday, April 13, she placed an order for 4,300 pounds. “In these last two weeks, we’ve served 56 families,” she said. “That’s 193 individuals.”

CDC image of the coronavirus

As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, food banks across the county are seeing “a dramatic uptick,” said Maj. Cheryl Compton, Salvation Army. “Everyone just paid rent and many of them haven’t gotten their unemployment this month.”

Many of them are new customers, noted Julia Perdue, Cooperstown Food Pantry director. “We served 29 new households last month,” she said. “In all, we served 219 families. That’s our highest since 2007.”

“We’ve already seen 15 new people this month,” said Joyce Mason, director, St. James Food Pantry. “And it’s going to get worse the longer this goes on.”

However, she noted, the evening feeding ministry, The Lord’s Table, has seen a decline in people coming for the take-out hot meals. “It’s a social thing for them,” she said. “People want to sit down, and not being able to do so is difficult for them, so they don’t come.”

In Richfield Springs, Polly Renckens has seen the same influx of new clients herself, but worries the poor weather – or fears about COVID-19 exposure or that food may have run out – is keeping some former clients away.

“We have plenty of food!” she assured. “If we don’t see some people soon, we’re going to start calling individually to check on them.”

At many of the pantries, visitors are given a “shopping list” where they can check off what they need and want. “Client choice maintains dignity and alleviates food waste,” said Purdue. “If we give someone something they don’t want, it’s just going to go to waste on a shelf.”

The groceries are packed and bagged by volunteers – in masks and gloves – and then taken curbside  for the client to pick up, contact-free. “We make every effort to protect the safety of our volunteers and clients,” said Renckens.

And so that no one goes hungry, Stacie Haynes, executive director, Susquehanna SPCA, started
a pet food pantry to help families stretch their budgets in tight times. The pantry has
been placed outside of the shelter so that people can maintain social distancing.

But, she noted, if someone can’t get to the pantry, a volunteer will take the food to them.

And although the pantries are seeing a rise in need for the pantries, they’re also seeing a rise in donations.

“We’ve raised $1,000 in the last month,” said Eggleston. “A dollar buys $10 of food from the regional food bank.”

“People are donating anything they can,” said Mason. “And we’re getting a lot of help from organizations.”

Even between pantries, there’s sharing. “If I have an excess of anything, I call around to see who needs it,” said Mason. “That’s just how I do it. We have to help each other out.”

But however long this lasts, Eggleston assures people that the pantry will always be there to help their neighbors.

“As long as we have food, we’ll hand it out,” she said.

Food Banks Expect Onslaught, Worry About Food Shortages


Food Banks Expect Onslaught,

Worry About Food Shortages

Oneonta’s Lord’s Table Serving Only Takeout

Sal Fornabaio, Oneonta, and, behind him, Ron Johnson, Cooperstown, serves Chuck Garido, Oneonta, at the Lord’s Table, which this week switched from sit-down dinners to takeout only. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – With the kids home and many workers facing temporary layoffs as Coronavirus quarantines shutter businesses and send workforces home, Rev. Dr. Cynthia Walton Levitt, Coordinator, Hunger Coalition, is anticipating a higher demand on food pantries and feeding ministries.

“So many people are one disaster away from food insecurity,” she said. “A lot of people are losing paychecks, and they may have a little saved away, but in a couple of weeks, that rainy day fund runs dry.”

But when their clients need them – even just as a stop gap until work starts again – the food pantries of Otsego County are ready to step up.

“We’re encouraging people to come get food,” said Polly Renkins, director, Richfield Springs Food Pantry. “We have it to give, so don’t be shy.”

Clients at the Richfield Springs Food Pantry can get one box a week. “All they have to do is register at the door,” she said. “It’s just name, address and number of people in your family.”

“We ask people if they are allergic to peanut butter, fish or pork,” said Joyce Mason, who runs the Lord’s Table food pantry and feeding ministry at St. James Episcopal Church in Oneonta. “Right now, we’re giving a lot of things to help stretch their meals, like bags of beans and lentils.”

The Lord’s Table serves 10-15 households at the pantry.

“We’ve been busy over the last few days,” said Julia Purdue, director, Cooperstown Food Pantry. “We’re seeing people come in from the Northern part of the county, but we’ll serve anybody at least once.”

Purdue said that while there is plenty of food to go around, they are facing a shortage of bread and fresh produce. “Ours comes from Price Chopper, and they’re running low themselves,” she said. “We normally let our clients come in once a week for that, but now, we have to limit it to once a month.”

All food pantries, however, have changed the way they’re distributing food, opting to create food boxes for clients, rather than allowing clients to “shop” their shelves.

“We meet the clients at the door and go over a checklist of what we have, then we get it for them,” said Purdue. “We bring the boxes out on a metal cart, they pick it up and take it to their car, and then we disinfect the cart. We want to minimize contact as much as possible.”

Similarly, feeding ministries are having to re-think the way they serve clients. “It’s take-out only at the Lord’s Table,” said Mason. “On the first night, we served 40 people. It went pretty well.”

Though the Lord’s Table is normally open until 6:30 p.m., with no seating, they’ve reduced the hours from 4:30-5:30, Monday – Friday. Saturday’s Bread and Salvation Army are also doing take-out meals at their sites.

The Office of the Aging has closed their Senior Meal Sites throughout the county, but is offering seniors a chance to get their home delivery service, which brings a week’s worth of frozen meals directly to their door.

“We’re well-prepared and fully functioning,” said Tamie Reed, director, Otsego County Office for the Aging. “We’ve expanded our criteria for receiving home delivery so that people who use our meal sites will now be eligible.”

To register for home delivery of meals, seniors can call (607) 547-4232.

All pantries are still accepting donations of either food or money. “We had people offer to buy toilet paper online and have it shipped to us,” said Purdue. “Our clients can’t find what they need at the grocery store.”

And with many of their volunteers staying home, there are opportunities for furloughed workers and college students to help give back. “It’s a day to day situation,” said Mason. “We’re always short of volunteers.”

Elks Club Packed For Community Thanksgiving

Elks Club Packed For

Community Thanksgiving

Mary Ann Hartmann, West Oneonta, who has been volunteering at the Elks Annual Thanksgiving Dinner for 20 years, was in her element preparing plates of food for dinner guests this afternoon. Volunteers and organizers worked through the night preparing food for the event, sponsored by The Lord's Table and St. Mary's Food Bank,  before delivering 225 meals around the area and serving hundreds in the Elks social hall. (Ian Austin/
Mary Ann Hartman, West Oneonta, who has been volunteering at the Elks Annual Thanksgiving Dinner for 20 years, was in her element preparing plates of food for dinner guests this afternoon. Volunteers and organizers worked through the night preparing food for the event, sponsored by The Lord’s Table and St. Mary’s Food Bank, before delivering 225 meals around the area and serving hundreds in the Elks social hall. (Ian Austin/
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