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Ransomville food pantry carries on a tradition that started in Wilson

With the recent closing of the decades-old food pantry in Wilson, the new Ransomville food pantry wants to make sure Wilson residents know its doors are open and its volunteers are eager to help.

"I'm sure there are people out there who don't know about us," said Deborah Parker, founder of Ransomville's Care and Share Community Services.

The new pantry opened in December and is in the basement of the Ransomville Free Methodist Church, 3924 Ransomville Road.

"It's been a challenge to get the word out there," said Parker, who added that her pantry is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, and able to accommodate anyone with an emergency.

Despite its advertising challenges, the Ransomville pantry has seen its numbers more than double since it opened, now serving nearly 60 households and 147 individuals.

The pantry serves residents of Ransomville in the 14131 ZIP code, Youngstown and Porter (14174) and Lewiston (14092), and it has now added Wilson (14172) -- a town of nearly 6,000 residents.

Ella Lester, director of Country Roads Caring Neighbors Food Pantry in Wilson for the past 16 years, closed the food pantry at the end of April. At age 78, she said she could no longer do the heavy lifting the job required and tried for many months to find a replacement, to no avail.

She said she believed the pantry had served Wilson residents for 20 to 25 years. "I enjoyed it, and I had great volunteers," she said. "I was really worried about where my people would go when we closed, and I'm just grateful they can go to Ransomville."

The Wilson pantry was serving up to 74 households and 170 individuals per month when it closed.

"Ella Lester did a tremendous job running the Wilson food pantry for a number of years, and we are very grateful that Ransomville will pick up our residents," Wilson Supervisor Joseph Jastrzemski said.

"In today's economic climate, and with Pfeiffer Foods closing here [in November 2009], it's been very difficult to find employment, and people's unemployment benefits are running out," Jastrzemski said.

Carol Palumbo, family development and nutrition supervisor for Niagara Community Action Program Inc. in Niagara Falls, concurred.

"My hat's off to Ella and her volunteers for keeping the food pantry going for more than 20 years," Palumbo said. "Operating a food pantry is not easy. It takes someone with a real commitment to serve and to be aware of what's available for folks."

NiaCAP serves as the Niagara County distribution center for the Food Bank of Western New York, dispersing its supplies to 40 member agencies throughout Niagara County, including 19 food pantries. The agency helped distribute 1.5 million pounds of food throughout Niagara County last year.

Some Wilson residents may prefer to go to the Newfane Community Food Pantry, at 3455 Ewings Road, if they live on the eastern border of their town, but that pantry is already pretty busy, serving 76 households, with 225 individuals a month. They operate from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays.

With an eye on expansion, when the Ransomville volunteers learned of Wilson's plight, they decided they could accommodate those in need in Wilson.

The Ransomville volunteers will soon move across the church basement hall to a room that will double their pantry's capacity.

"We have to fix the room up and will put a floor in, drywall it and paint it," Parker said. "We'd like to be up and running in the new room by this fall."

Parker said the community's response to the new food pantry has been overwhelming -- from those providing donations as well as from patrons.

"The Lewiston and Ransomville post offices just did a food drive for us, and it was overwhelmingly successful," she said. "The Lewiston Post Office, alone, collected almost 1,000 bags of food for us.

"And we've been invited to start collecting donations at the Artpark concerts in Lewiston on Tuesday nights," she added.

Of course, with the added workload, the pantry is eager to enlist the help of new volunteers.

"If anyone is interested in volunteering with us, I'd welcome them with open arms," she said. "There might be volunteers that had worked in the past at the Wilson pantry, and we could use their help."

Parker said the patrons of the Ransomville pantry, "are so grateful. They thank us profusely and tell us, 'You just don't know what this means to me.' "

"I see little kids coming in here, and it just breaks your heart," Parker said. "This country has more than enough food to feed everyone. There is no reason anyone should be hungry, if we do our part."

Those wishing to donate to the pantry may call Parker at her Ransomville restaurant, Knead the Dough, at 791-4991, or on her cell at 998-9300. Anyone wishing to volunteer at the pantry or to collect goods on Tuesdays at Artpark may call Joanne Whitney at 940-0069. The food pantry has eligibility requirements, which volunteers are happy to discuss with potential patrons.

Have an idea for Religion News? Write to Scott Scanlon, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240 or e-mail niagaranews@buffnews.com

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