WILTON — One dozen identical bottles of Italian dressing stand atop the shelves. Each bears a label-faced portrait of green rolling hills and olive and cypress trees on a blue-sky day. It is a lush panorama of a province in some other sunny place, standing in contrast to the landscape of vanilla shelves that run down the aisles inside the room.
“Everything you see on the shelves here will be gone within the month - easily,” says Paula Schmid, president of the board of directors at the Wilton Food Pantry.
“These shelves were almost bare, but we had a 1,000-pound food bank delivery yesterday morning after we had a 1,500-pound Hoffman’s Car Wash food drive,” she says, framed by rows of hot sauce and mayonnaise, cold brew coffee and chicken soup, cans filled with chili, pear halves, diced tomatoes, and boxes of pancake mix, corn flakes, and mac ’n’ cheese.
Six volunteers spent a good part of the past two days sorting through the incoming goods, checking expiration dates and ensuring the packaging is intact. “Still, there are some gaps on our shelves,” Schmid says. “We’re getting 1,000 pounds of food from the Food Bank almost every week and going through it in a week.”
On this day, Congressman Paul Tonko is touring the Wilton Food Pantry. He is accompanied by Saratoga County Administrator Steve Bulger, and Wilton Food Pantry Director of Operations Peter Maynard.
In June, the pantry was awarded $50,000 from Saratoga County’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation, helping the pantry to cover most of its operating costs for this year, and allowing the organization to continue to provide critical service to food insecure residents of Northern Saratoga County.
In all, Saratoga County received approximately $44.65 million in ARPA monies since the Federal Government passed the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package in March 2021. Locally, 20th District Congressman Paul Tonko voted in favor of the economic stimulus package.
Tonko toured the Ballard Road food pantry as part of a series of visits by the congressman this month to sites across the Capital Region to highlight how the ARPA funds he helped deliver are working for families and local communities.
The Wilton Food Pantry began organizing volunteers to provide an emergency food supply to low-income residents a decade ago. It serves residents beyond its geographical town borders and extends to Northern Saratoga County.
Patron data shows a 35% increase in community need this year over last.
2021: 281 families, 623 individuals, 1,851 visits and 32,904 meals provided.
2022: 367 families, 868 individuals, 2,448 visits and 44,566 meals provided.
Goods are mainly secured from three sources. Items are purchased from the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in Latham, use-by-that-day items are picked up at Hannaford (for which the market receives a tax credit), and community fund drives.
“The Northeastern Regional Food Bank is our primary source; we pay for it, but we pay only 16-cents a pound. So for donations, we would actually prefer to have money because we can buy the things we need on our shelves, “Schmid said. “The way the food bank values things is that each pound of food is worth $1.79 that we hand out. What we’re actually paying for that is 16 cents, so it’s like a ten-times factor.”
The food pantry works with approximately 50 volunteers who pick up goods at the market, interact with the public, or work on backroom inventory.
“The hunger and hurt that’s out there for a lot of families is not easily seen, so I think it’s good for the region to have that. It’s important,” Tonko said.
The annual budget is $75,000 which covers rental of the space and two part-time paid employees. Due to the pandemic, the organization was unable to host its annual fundraising event for two consecutive years. Those events usually raise about $25,000 each year. During 2020 and 2021 an outpouring of donations from the community helped the food pantry stay afloat, the $50,000 COVID non-profit grant is assisting the organization this year.
“It’s important to have this set up and to be able to serve people. With one in five kids in the congressional district living in food insecurity, there’s a need out there, so you and your volunteers are making a major effort,” said Tonko, adding he was thankful the county Board of Supervisors directed some of federal rescue plan money it received to the food pantry.
“With the post-COVID response, rebuilding the economy is important - and this is part of it. This is stabilizing households and families,” Tonko said. “There is an all-out effort to conquer hunger. And it’s a great challenge. Thank goodness there are operations like this. By the grace of God anyone can be in this situation, so it serves all of us.”
For more information about resident registration and more about the Wilton Food Pantry, go to: wiltonfoodpantry.org.