The number of people who turned to local food pantries for help in 2014-15 was up in three of the four counties served by the Food Bank of Western New York, while the number in the fourth county, Cattaraugus, held steady.
In its annual report released in December, the Food Bank reports that 12 percent of the residents of Western New York – 165,000 people – found themselves needing help to keep food on their tables in the fiscal year that ended last June.
Food pantry visits were up 23 percent in Chautauqua County, up 13 percent in Niagara County and up 7 percent in Erie County. Cattaraugus County visits were unchanged, with that rural county and neighboring Chautauqua seeing close to 20 percent of their populations using the food pantries.
Overall, the number of families assisted by the Food Bank increased by 14 percent, according to the report.
All told, the Food Bank helps fill the shelves for 326 member distribution agencies across Western New York.
According to the report, there were 186,000 people in Western New York considered food insecure at some time during the reporting period ending June 30, meaning they were unsure where their next meal would come from. With an ever-changing clientele, the Food Bank distributed food for approximately 116,700 each month. Nearly 44,000 of those clients were children, and more than 13,000 were seniors – a 54 percent increase from the previous year.
Others looking for assistance were working adults who, as the saying goes, had too much month left after the paychecks were gone.
The report calculates that the 14.6 million pounds of food sent out to the community would provide for more than 12.2 million meals.
The Food Bank does more than stock pantries, however. Its report shows positive results from its educational and supplemental programs, including the free five-week Good Cookin’ food course at its facility kitchen, where adults learn how to prepare nutritious meals, and the Banking on Wellness afterschool program that engages students in exercise and teaches good nutrition.
The Food Bank also sponsors a Baby Needs Program to provide diapers, formula and other baby care products to parents in emergencies and a Backpack Program that sends food home with schoolchildren so they have enough to eat on weekends and over holidays.
The Food Bank, www.foodbankwny.org, relies on private donations, corporate contributions and the help of 3,000 volunteers to fight hunger in the region.