By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Every year, the Stamp Out Hunger food drive fills the shelves of food pantries across the United States as organizations strive to feed those facing desperation or hard times.
Volunteers in Niagara Falls spent much of Saturday morning making sure the distributing pantries got as much as they could from the generous people who left canned goods and non-perishable food items on their porches and stoops for collection.
In all six pantries from Niagara Falls met together behind the Rapids Theatre on Main Street to divvy up the donations and ensure the kindness of strangers meant meals for the ones who really need it in the community.
"Last year, our pantry gave out in excess of 47,000 meals to people," Al Picogna, a volunteer at St. Vincent De Paul Divine Mercy Food Pantry, said. "That's just one pantry. Multiply that throughout the entire city and you can see the need is great."
Niagara Falls' pantries, many of which are members of the Food Bank of Western New York, were allowed to distribute the local collected goods locally, according to Carol Houwaart-Dietz, president of United Way of Greater Niagara. Collectively, they've gathered together for this food drive for at least two decades to receive the food and ensure it all makes it safely to the respective pantries.
Getting the food to them is a little trickier, though. Mail deliverers are closely timed on their routes and aren't given any time exemptions to pick up food left outside doors. Instead, they often make two trips through their routes, according to Will Swearengen, a letter carrier at Niagara Falls' Main Street post office.
He said he delivers the mail and moves the food close to the curb for pickup either by himself at a later time or by volunteers who follow behind him.
"The post office does allow us to use the trucks," he said. "But we do this on our own time. We don't get paid extra for this. It takes extra time to do it, but we don't mind at all."
Each pantry has their own system they deal with, but many of their volunteers spend the time sorting through the donated items looking for expired food, perishable items and cans which can readily be given to clients.
It's a time consuming process, but one which makes it as easy as possible to then turn around and provide area residents with whatever they need, whether it be an emergency or a longer-term solution.
"The food is there, all they have to do is come and get it," Fredia Roberson, president of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church's pantry. "We enjoy doing it, helping the people in the community in need."
Some of the local participating pantries include: St. Vincent De Paul at St. Leo's Church, 2748 Military Road; St. John De La Salle, 8477 Buffalo Ave.; Divine Mercy, 2437 Niagara St.; and Mount Zion, 1334 Calumet Ave.Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.