Thursdays usually are busy for the food pantry at Hispanics United of Buffalo on Virginia Street, but last Thursday was even busier.
Typically, paid workers and a staff of 15 volunteers clean the center, load and unload shipments and stock food. But the difference on this day is that a triple shipment has arrived just in time for Christmas.
"This morning when we opened, we had no food. Now, look at it," said Ivonne Rosado, scanning the room full of boxes of food, beverages and other goodies for the holidays.
"We got our regular shipment plus a [load] this morning from The News Neediest Fund," added Rosado, Hispanics United food pantry coordinator.
She took over that position about a week ago and had to learn the system and her way around very quickly -- just in time for that day's unloading of 2,000 pounds of food, about twice the normal shipment.
Hispanics United is a partner of The News Neediest Fund, which is in its 25th year, and part of the Western New York Holiday Partnership.
Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday except Thursdays -- when food shipments arrive -- Hispanics United normally serves 1,800 families per month. On Thanksgiving alone, it fed 408 families and probably will feed at least that many this Christmas.
MaryLuz Rucci is one of the paid staff at the food pantry who helps unload the food pallets, pack the food for clients and clean the pantry weekly.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Rucci has lived in Buffalo the past four years. She also receives food weekly for her family, which includes three children, ages 8, 11 and 13. Without the pantry, Rucci said, it would be hard to make ends meet every month.
"This helps me feed my family," she said.
The food that's being packed this day will be organized into bags and boxes full of produce, staples such as cereal and pasta, canned and frozen meats, snacks, juice and milk, and family favorites such as ice cream and pies. Sometimes, they even provide toiletries and baby products.
"Whatever we get in, we give out," said John Vega, who had been running the food pantry for the past three months on a voluntary basis until Rosado came on board. But, he added, much of the community has the misconception that the agency is for Hispanic clients only.
That's not true, explained Rosado. "We accept anybody. We serve everybody," she said. "People think that because of the name Hispanics United that we only serve Hispanic people. That's not true. This serves everyone in the community."
"Not enough people know we serve everybody regardless of color, race, creed, religion. We don't discriminate," added Vega, who is also in charge of maintenance at Hispanics United.
"Because we're in the Hispanic community, they're the first who know, but we try to accommodate everybody . . . not just people who live in the city," he said.
Vega encourages people to visit the food pantry once a week, instead of once of month, which is the schedule at many other food pantries in the city.
"I tell them if they keep coming back, when we get applications for [programs like The News Neediest Fund], we'll be sure to let them know," Vega said.
>The News Neediest Fund
How to apply for gifts:
Applications will be accepted through Dec. 8. For application sites, hours of operation and eligibility requirements, call Central Referral Services at 851-5555, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Cash donations to purchase 12,000 holiday dinners and other perishable items. New, unwrapped items for 8- to 12-year-olds, such as books, electronic games, board games, crafts, gift cards, cosmetics, athletic equipment.
Where to give:
Drop-off sites for gifts include:
* The Buffalo News lobby at Washington and Scott streets
* The News' Niagara County Bureau at 8353 Niagara Falls Blvd., Niagara Falls (Military Road side of Pine Plaza)
* All Wegmans stores in Erie and Niagara counties
* Toys for Tots donation barrels scattered throughout the region
* For large group donations of gifts, call Deborah Patti at 849-5524
* Cash donations may be mailed to: The News Neediest Fund, Station C Post Office, 1245 Main St., PO Box 444, Buffalo, NY 14209-0444
Who are the participating organizations:
The Western New York Holiday Partnership is a collaboration between The Buffalo News Neediest Fund, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo, Central Referral Services, F.A.T.H.E.R.S., Hamburg Youth Bureau, Ladies of Charity, Lancaster Youth Bureau, New Creation Fellowship, Niagara County Partnership, Response to Love Center, the Salvation Army, the USMC Toys for Tots program, West Seneca AmeriCorps, WNY Hispanics & Friends.