WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- With the holiday season upon them, food pantries across Westchester County are seeing a higher need for their services than previous years.
"During the winter months more of our clients tend to use their money for rent and increased Con Ed bills, so we do see more people coming to the food pantry," said Pat Hart, board president of Caritas of Port Chester.
Hart said that holiday donations have been steady throughout the season, with lots of community organizations hosting food donation drives. However, she said that the number of people utilizing the food pantry has increased, a sentiment shared by several other organizations throughout the county.
"Our numbers are up quite a bit from last year," said Roberta Horowitz, operations director for the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry. Several organizations have donated food and money this season, including Northern Westchester Hospital and 12 congregations in the community. Horowitz said that every year more and more people are using the pantry.
"A lot of our clients rely on seasonal work, and many are not working during the winter, so they have to come to us. We also help a lot of seniors and working poor families," Horowitz said.
"The sense is, we are getting more people, especially more large families," said Kate Permut, vice president of the board for the Ossining Food Pantry. She said that the food pantry helps around 175 families per week, providing them with three days worth of groceries.
"One of our major problems is that food prices have gone up," Permut said. She said the cost of a bag of groceries provided to a family has increased about 30 percent. "We're feeling the pinch in our budget."
Organizations like the Ossining, Mount Kisco and Port Chester food pantries provide bags of groceries to their clients, typically with enough food to last between three days and a week. Items that are always needed include canned food, large boxes of cereal, pasta, rice and beans. Most are volunteer-run, and rely on donations and food supplied by the Food Bank for Westchester.
"It's not just during the holiday season. There's been an increase all year," said April Langus, the communications and events manager for the Food Bank for Westchester, which provides food for more than 265 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters across the county. With reductions in food stamps and other benefits, Langus said the need is increasing.
"The benefits that people are getting can't cover the cost of food. They don't have the means, so more and more are going to food pantries."
While the holidays are the giving season, food pantries provide services to their clients all year round, and some see a drop in donations and supplies after the New Year.
Hart said, "So many people are generous this time of year, we get a lot of donations. But come January, people are still hungry.