By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing Writer
---- — It often takes a village to raise the quality of life for families without means to obtain food, clothing and shelter.
The food bank of Cooperstown has been providing for local families for more than 35 years.
“We are averaging about 180 families a month, which is about 625 individuals,” said Audrey Murray, director of the Cooperstown Food Pantry. “In July, we served 170 families, (which is) 614 individuals.”
Cooperstown Food Pantry, located at 25 Church St. in the First Presbyterian Church, has been receiving food donations from the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market for the past three years. In the beginning, the merchants at the farmers’ market would donate leftover produce.
More recently, vouchers for the farmers’ market have been given to the people who get food from the food pantry.
“Audrey is very innovative,” said Lyn Weir, manager of the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market. “It is our mission to increase the availability of fresh produce and to increase the farmers’ profits. Our partnership with the food bank gets fresh food to people who may not be able to afford it and it gives the farmer a guaranteed sale.”
According to Murray, the pantry provides vouchers to its clients for the farmers’ market from June until October or November, depending on the budget and cash flow.
“Families get between $5 and $20, depending on the size of the family. In addition, children up to the age of 16 get ‘Give ‘em a Spout-Out’ vouchers of $2 each to spend at the market to encourage them to learn about and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Cooperstown Farmers’ Market bills for the vouchers that are used.
“We have about a 73 percent rate of usage for the vouchers issued,” Murray said. “(That is) higher than we expected when we began the program three years ago.”
The voucher system is successful according to Weir.
“The farmers accept the vouchers and then I redeem them from the food bank and reimburse the farmer,” Weir said. “It seems to work pretty well.”
The Cooperstown Food Pantry has recently received a weekly share from Susquehanna Community Agriculture group. The ‘Growing Community’s Food Pantry Garden’ has been planted with donations of seeds and starter plants from farmers and gardeners in the community.
“We expect produce from (the community garden) later this season,” Murray said.
In addition, the food pantry participates in a school children’s backpack program, in which a backpack is filled with food for children to take home over the weekend during the school year.
The Cooperstown Food Pantry began in 1977 when six area women feeding a family with food from their homes. Ellen St. John, who recently stepped down as the co-director of the Cooperstown Food Pantry was an original founder of the organization.
The food pantry now has 85 active members and an oversight and advisor board of nine members. Although known as The Cooperstown Food Bank, the organization recently has been designated a food pantry. It is a member of Feeding America, the largest domestic hunger relief agencies in the United States and Puerto Rico. In New York state, there are eight regional food banks that provide food to needy families through member agencies.
The Cooperstown Food Pantry purchases about 90 percent of the food it distributes. The remaining 10 percent is donated by area wholesalers, farmers, manufacturers and bakeries. Chobani donates as much yogurt as the food pantry can distribute.
Both the Cooperstown Food Pantry and the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market use fundraisers to offset their costs. The food pantry accepts donations of food, funds and time.
Information about the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market can be found at www.CooperstownFarmersMarket.org. For more information about the food pantry, contact Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.