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Bishop and rabbi celebrate opening of Getzville food pantry

A Catholic bishop and a Jewish rabbi will celebrate today the open of a food pantry in an area not typically associated with poverty.

Bishop Richard Malone of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and Rabbi Gary Pokras, senior rabbi at Temple Beth Zion, are to appear Wednesday afternoon at Town Square Food Pantry on the Weinberg Campus, 2710 North Forest Road in Getzville.

The Town Square Association gave the new pantry its space in a converted assisted-living facility on North Forest Road. The pantry actually opened in January, with the expectation of serving primarily local senior citizens but open to any eligible residents from the 14068 ZIP code.

The pantry is supported by Catholic Charities, Temple Beth Zion, Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, and myriad other individuals and community organizations.

“Amherst is viewed as our Westchester,” David M. Dunkelman, a member of the Town Square Association, said in a previous interview with The Buffalo News. “In some ways it is, but there’s tremendous poverty, and it’s the oldest part of the region.”

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.

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,” Pokras, senior rabbi at Temple Beth Zion, said in January. “The best way we do that is by helping each other.”

Recognizing the need for a partner with a proven track record of daily managing food pantries, the Jewish groups 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 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.”