Food pantry seeks new home

— Photo from the Guilderland Food Pantry website

Busy basement: The Guilderland Food Pantry has been housed in the cellar of the Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church on Western Avenue since it was founded 42 years ago. Its clientele has doubled to 100 in recent years and the new directors would like to re-locate to a rent-free first-floor space. Anyone with suggestions may call 456-5410, extension 15.

— Photo from the Guilderland Food Pantry website

“We strive to stamp out hunger by feeding those in need” is the motto of the Guilderland Food Pantry. Director Sue Hennessy describes the volunteer staff as wonderful. Many of the volunteers are elderly and could benefit by having the pantry located on a ground floor rather than in a basement as it is now.

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland Food Pantry is looking for a new home.

“We need to move up from the basement,” said Sue Hennessey who, with her husband, Mark Hopper, has been at the helm of the pantry for two months.

The couple brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to their work at the pantry and shares a sense of mission about it.

Hennessy and Hopper have both recently retired after each teaching for several decades. They met through Match.com and married three years ago. “I thought I was done with dating when I found his profile,” she said; she clicked on it. “It said he loved the Adirondacks and hiking and biking…We were married a year later.”

Hopper planned an across-the-state bike trip to celebrate Hennessy’s retirement last year; they biked from Buffalo to Albany in eight days.

“We were looking for a ministry to do together,” Hennessy said. Their pastor asked if they would be interested in directing the food pantry.

“It was meant to be,” said Hennessy.

Since its founding in 1972, the food pantry has been housed in the cellar of the Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church on busy Western Avenue near Willow Street. The pantry runs under the auspices of the Guilderland Interfaith Council, made up of churches in town, as did the Meals on Wheels program until 2006 when it became part of the town’s Senior Services.

Hennessy said the pantry had traditionally served about 50 clients but, in recent years with the economic recession, that number has doubled to 100.

“There are a lot more people going up and down those stairs,” she said. That includes not just the clients but also the 15 volunteers — many of whom are elderly.

“These people are wonderful,” said Hennessy of the volunteers. “They show up every day. Most are retired and have the time to help.”

The stairs also prevent someone using a wheelchair from accessing the pantry.

If Hennessy got her wish, the food pantry would have a new rent-free home in Guilderland on a first floor, preferably with a reception area “even a hallway,” she said. The council could pay for utilities, she said, and anywhere in town would be fine.

“Right now, we have 600 square feet,” she said.

Most of the pantry’s food comes from drives, said Hennessy. “The post office has the biggest one,” she said. Various Guilderland neighborhoods pitch in, as do the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and the elementary schools.

Other pantries in Guilderland are housed at St. Lucy’s in Altamont and at St. Madeleine Sophie off of Carman Road. “Since they have their own, people living in those areas of town use them,” said Hennessy, adding, “We won’t turn down anyone.”

Hennessy has set up a website — www.GuilderlandFoodPantry.com — that explains the basics of volunteering and of applying to get food.

Volunteers staff the pantry between 9:30 and 11 a.m. to serve clients. They also organize food drives, stock the shelves at the pantry, and deliver food to clients.

Families or individuals are eligible to use the food pantry if they receive food stamps and at least one other government program — unemployment; Social Security Income; Women, Infants, and Children; public housing; Medicaid; or Home Energy Assistance Program — or if they are a fire or disaster victim, unemployed, or have an annual income below the poverty level set by the federal government.

Clients must also show proof of Guilderland residency with a driver’s license or copies of utility or tax bills.

To apply for assistance or to become a volunteer, people may call 456-5410, extension 15.

“A lot are referrals,” said Hennessy of how clients first come to the food pantry. They are referred by schools, doctors, friends, and social workers.

She also said, “A lot of people have been laid off and are stuck for a while.”

In addition to routine food packages, the pantry provides its clients with special meal packages for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

As of Sept. 1, Hennessy said, a client can get a food allotment every five weeks. “We make up a package with canned goods, frozen meats, everything,” she said. Each package contains enough to feed one person 21 meals.

Donations may be dropped at the food pantry, Monday through Friday between 9:30 and 11 a.m. Right now, the address is 2291 Western Ave., in the basement of the Hamilton Union Church, but, if Sue Hennessy gets her way, that address may soon change.

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