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FOOD BANK SEEKS HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Clem Eckert sits at a round table in his cramped office inside the Food Bank of Western New York, crunching the numbers on his calculator.

Eckert has just learned that National Fuel is donating $15,000 to the Food Bank, to buy turkeys for needy families at Thanksgiving. At about 65 cents a pound, for 8-to-10-pound turkeys, Eckert realizes that the gift will pay for roughly 2,500 turkeys.

His eyes light up -- for a second.

"That's going to help a lot," he said of the sizable gift. "But we're still going to need more. We're really worried that we may not be able to meet our goal of providing a Thanksgiving dinner for every needy family in Western New York.

"Our mission is to do just that," he added.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and once again the Food Bank -- and the 494 local food pantries, soup kitchens, group homes and shelters it stocks -- are feeling the pre-holiday pinch.

What's a more basic need for a family enduring hard times, Eckert asks, than being able to feast on a turkey dinner with all the trimmings?

As of late last week, Eckert had close to 9,000 of the roughly 15,000 turkeys needed to make that basic desire a reality for those in need.

So he's making his annual appeal for fellow Western New Yorkers to dig as deeply as they can, no matter how much -- or little -- they can afford.

"They can drop off anything, whether it be a bag of food, enough for one Thanksgiving dinner, or 500 turkeys, or anything in between," he said.

The need is staggering.

Before the year ends, the Food Bank will have moved about 13 million pounds of food out of its immaculate warehouse and freezers near William Street and Fillmore Avenue, helping local agencies in four counties serve more than 1 million meals each month to more than 120,000 individuals.

But there's not enough to go around at Thanksgiving.

So almost every agency will see its request for turkeys and Thanksgiving dinners reduced.

"About 90 percent of our agencies cannot get what they requested," said Paulette Hood, agency services manager for the Food Bank. "If things stay the way they are, only 10 percent will get what they need."

A perfect example is St. Brigid Parish Outreach, a satellite of Catholic Charities, on Fulton Street in Buffalo's Old First Ward.

The food pantry there provides food for about 375 households per month, including about 290 families with more than one person. So Sister Joan Sherry asked for 200 turkeys, 100 chickens and 100 hams.

Instead, she got 120 turkeys and 120 chickens.

"I could still use about 100 more turkeys," she said, figuring that some families will have to go somewhere else for Thanksgiving. "I'll just have to tell people that I'm sorry, that I gave out all I had."

But that's not an appetizing prospect for those providers who want every family to give thanks for what it has -- at least for one day.

Sherry hates telling a family that she can't give them a turkey for Thanksgiving.

"They just turn around and leave," she said. "It doesn't make me feel very good."

The Food Bank, on Holt Street, will be open until Thanksgiving, from 6:30 a.m. to about 8 p.m. weekdays, and from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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