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Cathy Matthews looks at canned goods on the pantry shelves.
Cathy Matthews looks at canned goods on the pantry shelves.

Pantry hopes to nourish both sides of the "giving" equation

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Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends - and food. But more and more people in the north country need help with putting food on the table. Asking for that help can be hard. Julie Grant visited one pantry in Canton that tries to make it easier. The director hopes to nourish both people who need food, and people who donate.

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Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

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Phone rings

Cathy Matthews:  Hello, church and community, may I help you?  What kind of help, hon?

The caller needs money to buy a propane tank for heat.

“That kind of thing I cannot cover because that calls for a money transfer, and I cannot do that.  What I can do, is if you need food,or something, and you come here, whatever you save on food, perhaps you could do something with that? The other thing I can do is give you some referrals…”

Cathy Matthews just started running the Church and Community program a few months ago.  The program was created by seven churches in Canton to provide food and clothing for people in need.  Matthews says she can’t directly help everyone who calls – but she gives this man about 9 other phone numbers -  places that might help him buy a new tank:

“And then my advice is always, don’t ever hang up when they say ‘no.’  Ask for another referral.  Because if you make 30 phone calls, someone may help you.  Now about 80-percent who do that, call me back and say they got something.” 

Matthews loves to hear about the successes, especially since so much funding for social service agencies has dried up.  She says the government-funded programs aren’t able to help people as much as they used to.  But her church and community program is on track to give out twice as much food this month as it did in July – enough for more than 4-thousand meals.

“And what I’m finding is I’m not getting the same people I had before.  I’m not getting single mothers that social services cut back on, or they’ve got to move because the rent is too high.  Now I’m getting people who’ve run out of unemployment.  I’m getting a lot of men who are trying to find a way to support their families.

For them it’s devastating.  I’ve always taken care of my family.  I’m 45 years old and I’ve got three kids, and I can’t feed them.”

Matthews has needed a food pantry during tough times in her own life, so she understands what it’s like.  

“That’s what makes the job so rewarding.  You can say ‘hey, don’t worry about.  You’re among family, this is family.  We’ll help you, we’ll be with you.  Don’t worry about it.’”

This is family?  Usually when people need assistance they get handed a clip board with lots of forms to fill out.  They need to find paperwork to prove their income. 

Matthews does write down a little information.  But when people need food, she takes them right to the pantry.

“I’m very proud of this pantry.  The volunteers, the board members, everybody worked on this.  So you see, what it is, when you come in here, you get your own little cart…”

Not all the shelves are full.  But many are stocked with canned goods – peas, corn, peanut butter.  There are cereals, whole grain pastas, and three freezers full of chicken and ground turkey.  About a quarter of the food comes from donations – mostly from the churches that started the program.  Matthews buys the other 3/4ths from the Central New York Foodbank. 

Instead of set hours and long lines, people can come any time during weekday hours…

“And so I don’t have a mob scene.  I hate that.  It makes people feel like peasants, and I don’t like it.”

Matthews spent time in Peace Corps. She grew up in the Catskills region – and says her small family was always inviting people over, sharing food, and making themselves part of something larger. 

“Family, it’s part of what I think every organization that deals with people should encourage.  Because they’re not my clients, they’re not some number in my book.  They’re people I care about – I care that they don’t have the right food.”

Matthews tries to keep healthy foods in stocks because she cares.  And she says it feels really good when people find things on the shelves they’re excited to take home.  Matthews says that’s something people who donate to the pantry can feel good about…

“I’m not just doing something for the people that don’t have.  I’m doing something for the people that have.  And I honestly believe that.”

The Church and Community food pantry is open weekdays from 9:30 to 3:30.  People can contact the program directly for questions about food and donations.

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