When questioned at the recent Town Council meeting about the services the Glocester Food Pantry supplies, Human Services Director John Luszcz not only answered all queries, but drew praise from councilors for his efforts to provide food and help for residents in need.
“There are a lot of individuals in town who don’t know what we do,” said Luszcz.
Councilor Walter Steere explained that he had received questions from residents regarding the way in which the food pantry was run.
“There’s been a lot of chatter about the Glocester Food Pantry and what is going on there,” said Steere. “I just want John to have an opportunity to explain what is going on there about supplies and things like that.”
Luszcz explained that one donor showed up on Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. to drop off some supplies. The shelves were empty because the two handcarts loaded with supplies for the day had not yet been loaded to the shelves by volunteers who were scheduled to arrive at 9 a.m. Apparently, he said, the donor did not notice the supplies and assumed the shelves were empty.
“He saw the shelves were empty without even considering the hand trucks that were loaded with food, and he just went off a little bit,” recalled Luszcz.
When he purchases supplies, Luszcz explained that he canvasses a number of local markets looking for the lowest prices, as well as food products on sale, and also seeks other avenues for help.
“I go banging on doors looking for money. I’m putting in for grants. I even get Karen Scott (town planner and grant writer) to help me out on language on a few things I have going on,” said Luszcz.
He added that everything was running smoothly and that currently the food pantry has $47,000 in the bank, but, he said that wasn’t enough the way the economy was going and the demand was rising.
“I’ll be perfectly honest with you: donations are down, way down,” said Luszcz. “But we’re hanging on.”
Steere made the point that the food pantry was created to help people in town, but that other programs should be sought out first, including state and federal programs, which can provide more than the local pantry can.
“We want to help people who need help,” explained Steere. “But we are not the first place they should go. We are there to kind of fill in, to help out when they run short, right? I think that is an important point to remember about the Glocester Food Pantry.”
Luszcz explained they follow state guidelines in filling shelves. Many items get donated, he added, including fruit and vegetables, and bread. Meat was not included on the state list and, therefore, was not available.
“That is why we give them vouchers, so they can get a little meat, eggs,” he explained. “We do whatever we can do to get nutritious food in for these people.”
Other items available at the food pantry included cereals, bakery items, pies, cakes, and other sundries, including a variety of canned goods. Though paper products are not on the list, local donors provide them with the help of volunteers who collect donations.
“I’ve got wonderful people working down there – volunteers. They are outstanding people. I couldn’t do it without them,” Luszcz said.
Steere also explained that someone had questioned the food vouchers. Luszcz explained that food vouchers are only given out to eligible recipients, who make less than $30,000, according to federal guidelines. Vouchers for $30 are given out each month to individuals for food items only.
Though the food pantry is only open on Wednesdays, Luscz explained he is there most of the time and that some individuals who could not come on a Wednesday might come on other days.
“I can’t not be here five days a week,” he added.
Currently, he said, he has over 100 people coming in, and it could get worse.
“It’s two and a half times what it was when I first took over,” said Luszcz. “With the donations dwindling and the primaries (recipients) going up, you can see the what is happening.”
Despite the generosity of town residents and others, the problem was getting worse, he added. If the trend continues, the pantry may have to reduce the amount of food vouchers to help fill shelves.
“We’re not going to conjure it up out of thin air,” said Luszcz. “We’ll just have to tell them, ‘sorry.'”
In the meantime, he added, they are holding on. All the councilors thanked Luscz for his efforts and hard work.
“I’ve seen the people,” said Councilor Cheryl Greathouse, the liaison to the food pantry. “The people are indebted and they are truly grateful for all the hours and time John puts in.”