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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Food bank shelves bare after grocery store closings; Shaheen offers help during shutdown

MANCHESTER – Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., announced Wednesday that she would be donating her salary for the duration of the government shutdown to the New Hampshire Food Bank.

That’s one small piece of good news for Mel Gosselin, the food bank’s executive director, who is already feeling the pinch thanks to the closure of a dozen grocery stores across the state this year. Those stores donated around 1 million pounds of food each year, Gosselin said, about one-eighth of what the food bank doles out each year. And that doesn’t include other efforts that the stores partnered with the food bank to run, such as customer-driven food drives. ...

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MANCHESTER – Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., announced Wednesday that she would be donating her salary for the duration of the government shutdown to the New Hampshire Food Bank.

That’s one small piece of good news for Mel Gosselin, the food bank’s executive director, who is already feeling the pinch thanks to the closure of a dozen grocery stores across the state this year. Those stores donated around 1 million pounds of food each year, Gosselin said, about one-eighth of what the food bank doles out each year. And that doesn’t include other efforts that the stores partnered with the food bank to run, such as customer-driven food drives.

“Right off the bat, we know it’s a million pounds of food,” Gosselin said. “It’s a huge hit to us.”

Shaheen announced that she would donate her salary to the food bank for the duration of the federal government shutdown on her Twitter account around 9:30 Wednesday morning.

“Donating my salary to NH Food Bank during shutdown,” she said. “Congress needs to come together, get gov’t working again.”

Later, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., made a similar announcement that she would be donating her salary to charity, but didn’t say which one(s).

“Any days that federal workers do not get paid, I will donate my salary to a New Hampshire charity,” she said.

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster also will make a charitable contributions during the shutdown, according to the Concord Monitor.

“For every day the government is shut down, Rep. Kuster will contribute to Child and Family Services of New Hampshire and organizations serving veterans and military families,” said spokesman Rob Friedlander in a statement. The statement made no mention whether it would be her entire salary or a portion.

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter still will receive her salary but will make private charitable donations, according to WMUR-TV.

The closure of the grocery stores – including six Shaw’s stores and six Stop & Shop stores shuttered in August – pre-dated the government shutdown by months. In recent weeks, Gosselin and her staff, many of whom are volunteers, have kept a tighter reign on what they distribute to 400 food pantries across the state because they’ve had less to donate. That means the shelves at some local pantries are barer than usual.

The Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter is still faring well thanks to its own deals with local grocery stores, according to Carol Weeks, the shelter’s community outreach manager.

“We’ll see some of that impact when it gets closer to Thanksgiving,” she said.

It’s smaller food pantries, like the St. Vincent Food Pantry in Hudson, that rely more heavily on the food bank to stock their shelves that will feel more of the squeeze and will feel it sooner.

Pauline Boisvert, who runs the pantry, said she used to receive 1,500-2,000 pounds of food per week. Now, her food bank orders top out at 600 pounds. Starting this week, she is going to have to limit what families can take because, while she can supplement the food bank food with grocery trips, that money won’t last forever.

“The result is, I have to spend more money to fill the shelves, but I don’t always have money,” Boisvert said.

That doesn’t mean the food bank’s limited food stores won’t affect larger pantries as well. Weeks said the Nashua pantry relies more on the New Hampshire Food Bank around the holidays to fill the boxes of holiday meals in hands out at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We’re nervous about that,” she said. “I’m sure that we will see the impact during the holidays.”

The New Hampshire Food Bank is the only facility in the state that supplies food to shelters and pantries. Already, the food bank spends about $1 million a year on food – which it buys by the truckload and which accounts for about 50 percent of what it doles out each year, Gosselin said.

The food bank moved to a new, larger facility three years ago that allows it to buy more food at a time, which is cheaper and more efficient to distribute.

But this week, a lot of the shelves stacked in the huge warehouse are empty.

“You see a lot of empty space,” Gosselin said. It’s kind of scary, because this is a main source of food for people in the state.”

At the same time, Gosslin is expecting more demand from food pantries as they see more demand from clients, who will likely run out of food stamps earlier in the month thanks to a reduction in federal money to the state’s Division of Family Assistance.

A family of four’s month food stamp benefit will increase to $668 on Oct. 1 but then shrink to $632 on Nov. 1, according to DHHS.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s huge,” Gosselin said. “Food stamps already aren’t enough for people to live on.”

Joseph G. Cote can be reached
at 594-6415 or jcote@nashua
telegraph.com
. Also, follow Cote
on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).