Continued economic uncertainty in many households has more New Yorkers relying on assistance from food pantries. That was a message relayed Friday by three elected representatives during a visit to a Cheektowaga church where needs are rising both for food handouts and volunteer assistance.
Volunteers were busy inside Resurrection Life Church on Old Union Road, quickly unloading dozens of boxes that had just been delivered by their truck. Inside were various food items that will be divided and assembled in food kits.
Resurrection Life food pantry director Kim Reynolds says they serve about 1,350 clients.
"We actually serve 650 low income seniors, 222 chronically homeless veterans and then, I would say, about 20 percent of our clients are working poor," she said. "These are families that rely on this. This is their gap filler. The food stamps is supposed to get them so far, the SNAP benefits. But this is the gap filler. When every other resource runs out, they come to us.
US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New York State Assemblymember Monica Wallace and Erie County Legislator Tim Meyers visited the food pantry Friday. They were given a tour of the facilities and helped package some of the food kits for distribution.
Those kits, Reynolds explained, provide a three-day supply.
"Three days is all we're required to pack. That's all the funding we get. And if you can imagine, three days will not get you far," she said. "You've still got another 27 days to cover for the month. And many of our families have lost that second income. And they're counting on those SNAP benefits, those can get extended SNAP benefits, at the very least until these kids get back to school so families can get back to work, because our families can't get back to work as long as they're educating their own kids at home."
Continued high unemployment also influences demand. Reynolds explained that when the state's COVID pause took effect in mid-March, they converted the church into a drive-thru food pantry. Demand lowered when emergency unemployment benefits were enacted but once many were no longer receiving those benefits, the calls for help rose again.
"There has been an over 50-percent increase in the demand for food banks, and over a 50-percent increase in the demand for Meals on Wheels, just since the COVID started," said Wallace. "I've had the opportunity to go around and talk to people and hear their stories. Families that never really thought that they would ever need to rely upon these resources are needing it."
Legislator Meyers said with all the stresses people are currently facing, hunger should not be one of them. He felt it was appropriate to visit the church Friday in order to share the message of need by many.
"I think you see it all over. These are unprecedented times and there are people in all walks of life, every creed, color, religion that need help," he said. "It's affected everybody."
Senator Gillibrand is hoping to work out a deal with federal lawmakers to increase Pandemic Electronic Fund Transfer benefits for qualified Americans, stating that with many children not heading into their school buildings due to the pandemic, many are going without meals provided by their schools.
There's also the ongoing question about when federal lawmakers may agree on a new round of fiscal relief.
"We're hoping that we'll have a breakthrough in the next couple of weeks," Gillibrand said. "The budget has to be passed by the end of September. And so hopefully in those negotiations, we could put together a strong package with money for food, money for housing, money for health care. These are the basics that families need, and we have to lift up their voices and make sure they're being heard in Washington."
While demand for food assistance is going up, Resurrection Life is in need of more help. Reynolds asked interested candidates to call (716) 608-3400.
"The need didn't go away, but the help is starting to go away. And we need that help to continue," she said.