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FOOD BANK HUNGRY FOR DONATIONS AS NUMBER OF NEEDY GROWS

Clem Eckert walked through the aisles of the Food Bank of Western New York warehouse on Holt Street, pointing out the empty pallets that just a few weeks ago were filled with food.

He wasn't concerned yet, but he wanted people to know supplies were getting a little thin as the holidays approached.

"The inventory is low, but somehow, someway it will come back," said Eckert, president of the Food Bank, which supplied an estimated 13.6 million pounds of food for needy families last year.

That need was up nearly 10 percent from 2002, and Eckert anticipated it will rise again this year, which is why he put out a call for donations around the Thanksgiving holiday, when many donors are in a generous mood.

Eckert figured Thanksgiving is the most universally celebrated holiday in the country, as well, and he doesn't want anyone spending the day without ample food. "We know that everybody celebrates Thanksgiving, no matter what religious belief or ethnic background they are," he said.

Eckert attributed the increased need to a growing population of people who work, but don't make enough money to cover basic expenses.

"Most of the reason is the category of what we call 'working poor,' " he said. "Plus, all the layoffs."

The Food Bank's 2003 survey of clients found 20 percent were employed full time and unable to earn enough money to support families; another 8 percent had part-time jobs. And 28 percent said they visited a food pantry or soup kitchen because they were disabled.

At the Gowanda Ministerium Food Pantry, Dennis Crouse has worked with families with low incomes as well as with single mothers and the elderly.

"There are probably people who should be coming to the pantry but don't. They're too proud to come," he said.

Even so, Crouse anticipates giving away more than 100 turkeys this year, about the same as last year.

"This is the busiest time of the year for us," said Crouse, a retired teacher who runs the pantry with his wife, Mary.

Crouse estimated that as much as 70 percent of the pantry's food comes via the Food Bank, and without it, he said, "It would be very difficult for us."

Eckert expressed thanks for the dozens of turkeys dropped off at the Food Bank by individual donors.

"It's kind of nice to see people drop things off, because then they see where things are going," he said.

Located at 91 Holt St., the Food Bank temporarily has expanded its hours to accept donated food from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays through Wednesday and on Saturday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Still, cash donations are the best way to give, said Eckert, because it allows the agency an opportunity to buy the most needed food for clients.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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