Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 12, 2013

Food pantries prep for holidays

BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS mdrahos@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Area food pantries expect to feed a lot of people during the holidays, thanks in large part to community help.

“It gets really busy as you head into the holidays,” said David Abeel, director of development at Benzie Area Christian Neighbors in Benzonia. “From mid-November to the first or second week of December is one of our peak periods.”

Luckily the holidays are as busy with donations as they are with demands.

“The holiday season is when we get a surge of donations,” he said, adding that the agency’s focus is to “remain steady” and offer clients a wide variety of healthy, if not necessarily festive, foods for their holiday meals. “It’s a natural phenomenon. If you’re good at communicating, businesses will donate at year-end for taxes. The messages of support and giving and goodwill help to fan that kind of support for these basic safety-net kinds of charities.”

Clients who make a regular visit to the Father Fred Foundation in November or December also can pull out items for a full holiday meal, said executive director Rosemary Hagan.

“They’re going to walk out with an added bag of groceries,” she said. “Think of your own family and how your budget is more taxed around the holidays. All families want to have that special meal.”

She said the agency’s fall food drive collects enough food and cash to meet some of those needs. November and December donations, which traditionally total about 40 percent of giving, also help. But the agency is always grateful for extra donations, from frozen turkeys and turkey breasts to money to buy them.

“If people are shopping, we ask if they can shop again for another family. And for the same kind of food. If you’re buying fresh sweet potatoes, buy more for another family,” she said. “We are looking for Christmas kinds of things, those extra items: more cans of sweet potatoes and green beans and dried onions for the green bean casserole.”

Father Fred Chaplain Jim Holwerda said the food pantry averages about 1,100 to 1,200 visits a month. But in December 2012 that number rose to 2,100.

“It’s a time when more people are visiting, families are around. How we communicate love is with food,” he said. “We also see increased use of our pantry connected to the Toys for Tots distribution we do. When people come for that, they come to the pantry.”

Local churches donate about a third of the foods that find their way into Christmas dinner boxes for clients of Kalkaska Area Interfaith Resources, said KAIR food pantry coordinator Brenda Vowels.

Vowels said she expects about 300 families to apply for the boxes, which contain either turkey or ham and all the fixings for trimmings, from cranberry sauce to rolls to potatoes.

“People are spending their ready cash for gifts,” she said. “We understand that.”