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Food Bank of WNY gave more away as demand rose over past year

The Food Bank of WNY provided 15.1 million pounds of food over the last year.

That's at least 500,000 pounds more than given away the previous fiscal year and 3 million pounds more than five years ago, reflecting the area's increased demand.

The organization gave 18 percent more food to seniors, 11 percent more to individuals and 8 percent more to  families during the 2015-2016 fiscal year in Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties,  according to its annual report.

Many of these recipients have jobs but are still poor.

"If you're living paycheck to paycheck, something has to give," said Marylou Borowiak, the Food Bank's president and CEO.

Reductions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program and administered the  U.S. Department of Agriculture, was a factor, Borowiak said.

Provisions from the Food Bank are intended to supplement what other feeding programs provide.

The New York State Poverty Report 2016, prepared by the New York State Community Action Association, found 13.4 percent of the population of the four-county service area -- 180,670 people -- lacked the means or the transportation to acquire enough nutritious food to lead a healthy lifestyle.

The percentage of people living in poverty in the four counties last year ranged from 13.6 percent in Niagara County to 19.4 percent in Chautauqua County.

"There is no one address for poverty," Borowiak said.

The Food Bank procures and distributes food through 329 member agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. Up to 129,000 individuals are served monthly, including 45,000 children and 17,000 seniors. Nearly 3,000 volunteers helped lend a hand.

The past year also saw some needed improvements at the Food Bank. The group made direct tractor-trailer deliveries to member organizations in some locations and wants to eventually do so in all four counties. The deliveries allowed member agencies to avoid having to pick up food directly.

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation also gave a $500,000 grant to the Food Bank to purchase a new refrigerated truck for its Mobile Food Pantry Program and to make technology and infrastructure upgrades.

The Food Bank's annual report noted that supermarkets raised $778,391 for the Food Bank. Some seventy-seven percent of the community's support came from non-government sources.

"Western New York is a hugely giving community," said Paula Mercurio, chief financial officer. "If you look at some of the national statistics of giving rates, versus Western New York, we're off the charts. We certainly couldn't do it alone."


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