Volunteers stock shelves with first food donations at Town Square for Aging on the Weinberg Campus, a collaborative effort by Catholic and Jewish groups whose staff is “going to be busy.”

Canned soups, boxed pastas and jars of peanut butter are stacked neatly on racks in the area’s newest food pantry.

But this pantry, an interfaith collaboration between Catholic and Jewish groups, is not in an area traditionally thought of as a deep pocket of poverty and need.

It’s in Getzville, in Amherst.

“Amherst is viewed as our Westchester,” David M. Dunkelman said, referring to the wealthy county in southeastern New York. “In some ways it is, but there’s tremendous poverty, and it’s the oldest part of the region.”

Dunkelman is a board member of the Town Square Association, which gave the new pantry its space in a converted assisted-living facility on North Forest Road.

Estimates from the Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey show that 8.2 percent, or 789 of Getzville’s 9,603 residents, live in poverty. About 3.7 percent of Getzville’s residents were senior citizens older than 55 living in poverty.

“This is obviously an area that is attracting and retaining seniors,” said Jeffrey R. Pirrone, supervisor of the Mobile Safety-Net Team, which surveys the area’s human services. “But with all the efforts that have gone on, the poverty is still there. You don’t normally think of Amherst as an impoverished area.”

But there are people in this suburb going hungry, Pirrone said.

“They’re going to be busy,” he said of the pantry staff.

Organizers of the Town Square Food Pantry, which opened Friday, say they expect to see primarily senior citizens walk in the door, but will serve any eligible residents from the 14068 ZIP code. The food pantry will be open Tuesdays and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., but closed for lunch from noon to 12:30 p.m.

Backers also say the project has brought cooperation between faith communities in the area to a new level, with each stakeholder deeply invested in its long-term success. While religious groups may team up on a single food drive or walk against hunger, it’s rare to see them accept joint responsibility for an ongoing project, they say.

“This is a very fragile, new idea,” Dunkelman said. “It’s a series of innovations.”

Dunkelman and the association recognized a hunger problem among Getzville’s frail elderly and approached Temple Beth Zion, whose congregation of 900 families raised the pantry’s initial food donations around Yom Kippur and will volunteer at the site.

“We have an obligation to do everything that we can – to do our part – towards helping to realize the vision ultimately for what creation can be,” said Gary Pokras, senior rabbi at Temple Beth Zion. “The best way we do that is by helping each other.”

Anonymous donors from the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies contributed $80,000 to transform 1,200 square feet in the Town Square for Aging on the Weinberg Campus. Walls, flooring, wheeled racks, a bathroom and a cooler and freezer were added to previously empty space. About $5,000 in monthly operating costs are anticipated.

“We want this to be a modern, well-lit, welcoming facility that’s easy to navigate,” said Peter Fleischmann, the foundation’s director.

But the Jewish groups recognized that they needed a partner with a proven track record of daily managing food pantries. So they brought aboard Catholic Charities, which agreed to make Town Square the seventh food pantry under its operation.

“It’s a wonderful collaboration, which I don’t think has really been done to this extent before,” said Eileen Nowak, director of parish outreach and advocacy for Catholic Charities, which will provide the pantry’s professional staffing.

The partners have reached out to the Food Bank of Western New York, with the aim of becoming one of its 300 member agencies and tapping into its supply chain. Food Bank officials welcomed the new pantry as a way to a fill a gap in an area often overlooked.

“When they came to us and said they wanted to open a pantry we immediately looked at the geographic location and said, ‘Yeah, this is an underserved area. The area is going to benefit from this,’ ” said Carol Palumbo, the Food Bank’s agency services director.

For the faith-based groups, it all goes back to their missions to make the world a just place.

“One way to make it just is, at a bare minimum, to make sure that people can eat,” said Adam Scheldt, assistant rabbi at Temple Beth Zion. “Because if people can’t eat, the world is not a just place.”

email: jpopiolkowski@buffnews.com

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