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NEWFANE – Denise Noble has visions of a refrigerator bursting with dairy and fresh produce, and shelves overflowing with boxes of cereal, canned goods and personal care items to meet the increasing needs of First Baptist Church of Newfane’s Food Pantry.

It’s not easy feeding the rural poor.

“What we see here are the elderly, the working poor, the disabled and the migrant workers,” she said. “A lot of people feel ashamed that they’re in the situation they’re in, but it isn’t their fault. Some are retired. Some say, ‘We have jobs, and this shouldn’t be happening.’ But they also have bills – gas bills, electric bills, medical bills – and the cost of everything is going up.”

Noble, the new coordinator of what used to be known as the Migrant Food Pantry, estimates that 200 residents of the Newfane School District visit the pantry each month. The pantry receives food through the federal and state governments and has the ability to acquire additional food and some personal hygiene items at a reduced cost, all through the Food Bank of Western New York.

“We need canned food donations, but we also need diapers and personal hygiene products like shampoo, toothbrushes and toilet paper,” she said. “It’s tough out here. We don’t have the luxury of public transportation. I do deliveries seven days a week, if necessary, because a lot of people don’t have vehicles.”

In an effort to bolster what the pantry receives from the Food Bank of Western New York, she is organizing a basket auction from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at the church, 6047 East Ave. She hopes to draw donations of baskets to raffle, food items, and money to purchase additional items for the pantry.

Carol Palumbo is the family development and nutrition supervisor for the Niagara Community Action Program in Niagara Falls, which operates the distribution center for the Food Bank for all of Niagara County. A total of 23 food pantries from throughout Niagara County, as well as other partners such as shelters and group homes, pick their goods up at the distribution site twice a month.

“Donations are important to all of us,” Palumbo said. “This is a great effort, and it’s great that Denise is willing to do this event.”

Kelly Burke, the Food Bank’s agency services coordinator, said, “Events like these bring about an awareness of the food pantry that might be as important as the donations. These events bring in new clients. Denise is working hard to expand on what’s there, to strengthen and improve it.”

Palumbo explained that the federal government provides free food through the U. S. Department of Agriculture to the Food Bank, while the state Department of Health’s Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program provides grants to the Food Bank to, in turn, offer free food to the pantries.

“We look at donated foods as a supplement, or a bonus to bolster the package we provide,” Palumbo said. Donations to buy food also are welcome.

“The way I explain it is that the USDA products are the basics, while the hunger-prevention grants provide things like frozen proteins, frozen vegetables and juices to complement the basics,” Palumbo explained. “Donated food gives pantries the further opportunity to give families complete meals and to give them choices.

“We’re all looking for support from our communities,” Palumbo added. “When community groups ask how they can help, I tell them they can hold food drives or clothing drives to help their local pantries. Some nonfood items, like personal care products, are available and may be purchased at a reduced price through the Food Bank, but they are not generally covered by grants, so this is a good place for donations.”

Burke said the need at food pantries has been growing throughout the country.

“We are definitely seeing more people coming to the pantries and less donations,” she said. “Some of the donors in the past have now become recipients. I feel we’re very fortunate in Western New York because we have a lot of people here helping their neighbors, and that isn’t always true in other parts of the country. But these are hard times for everyone.

“We are seeing people now that we wouldn’t usually expect to see at our pantries,” Burke continued. “For instance, we used to see families of nine, but now we’re seeing more families of two or three, and they are often working families who work the same amount of hours for less money now, and they are just trying to make ends meet.”

In planning her pantry benefit, Noble said she’s looking for basket donations in any theme, “cooking, camping, car care, Tops gift cards, anything. I’ve only had one basket donation.”

Noble said her church offers a number of outreach programs throughout the year, including a clothes closet, school supply and sneaker drive, winter clothing and bedding drive, book drives for children and adults, and Christmas tree and toy drives. She said she and her family and other volunteers also make up free children’s lunches for the community’s summer recreation programs.

“We do what we can here to help out,” she said.

She also serves a home-cooked community supper on the third Friday of each month at the church, excluding June, July and August, but providing it every Friday during January and February.

She’ll be offering a free community supper during the basket auction Friday, along with the raffle of a lottery ticket tree and door prizes. All proceeds that evening will go to First Baptist Church of Newfane’s Food Pantry.

To make a donation to the pantry or for the auction, contact Noble at (585) 205-6928. Checks may be sent to First Baptist Church of Newfane, 6047 East Ave., Newfane, NY 14108-1002.

email: niagaranews@buffnews.com