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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Food pantries play a big role for Tree Street residents

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of The Telegraph’s ongoing series examining the people who live in and around the Bronstein Apartments and the Nashua Housing Authority’s plan to demolish the low-income complex.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of The Telegraph’s ongoing series examining the people who live in and around the Bronstein Apartments and the Nashua Housing Authority’s plan to demolish the low-income complex.

NASHUA – Luz Perez is one of the regulars at Sally’s Market in the Tree Streets.

She typically walks to the store to pick up a few Mexican specialty foods for family meals. Her husband has a car, and they shop at Walmart every couple weeks to stock up.

But since her husband works in construction and gets paid irregularly, Perez’s family has another food source: the food pantry at the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter on Chestnut Street.

Food pantries in the neighborhoods around the Bronstein Apartments are busy. The Soup Kitchen’s Chestnut Street location has lines outside on most days.

On Thursdays people also line up outside a pantry on West Hollis Street run by another local group, the Community Outreach Resource Education Center.

“We’re up to about 100 people, over 100,” said the Rev. Bertha Perkins, who leads the group. “It’s definitely increasing. It’s just where people are today.”

Among those getting food from the CORE center on a recent Thursday was Peter Irwin. He said he and his fiancee receive disability payments that aren’t enough to meet their needs.

Irwin said the couple shops at the “cheapest places we can find,” including getting a ride from relatives once a month to stock up at Market Basket, but they still need assistance. At the CORE pantry, he said, they typically stand in line for 1½ hours to get a box of food.

“Then you go to another place that gives out food,” he said.

Noel Barrientos, who grew up at the Bronstein complex, also picked up a box of food at CORE. He said he, his girlfriend and their 13-month-old daughter can’t afford everything they need with the money he makes at a chain restaurant – about $500 every two weeks. He’s hoping that will change since he’s training to become the kitchen manager and his girlfriend is studying to be a medical technician. For now, though, he said they try to spend their money wisely, buying meat at Market Basket and serving it with side dishes made out of canned food from the food pantry.

Barrientos said he and his girlfriend only recently got an apartment on Ash Street. Before that, the two of them had been homeless for five months, staying with friends, and living separately so that she could continue to qualify for government benefits. Now that they’re back together, he said, her benefits will go down, but they’ll be able to apply for food stamps, which had been impossible before with no permanent address.

Barrientos said he calls his work on his days off to see if there’s an extra shift he can pick up, and he treasures any bit of extra money he can scrape up to help with his daughter’s needs.

“Sometimes I get little tips, so that’s what I use for her milk,” he said.

Barrientos’s sister, Angie Torres, who lives in Nashua near the Hudson border, went to the CORE pantry with him and picked up meat, potatoes and carrots for her own family.

“I could do three dinners,” she said of the assortment of food she acquired.

Torres, who has disabilities that have kept her out of work for 10 years, said she has three children at home and also often feeds her oldest who’s studying at New England College in Henniker. She said she’s applied for food stamps but there was a delay in processing her request.

“In the meantime, you have to do what you can,” she said.

Torres said she’s happy that her kids can get breakfast and lunch at school, so dinner is the only meal she needs to budget for. She said she spends time while they’re out of the house scraping together enough food to cook in the evening.

“You try not to worry the kids,” she said. “That’s part of being a parent.”

Sometimes, she said, she doesn’t manage to get much food, so she saves what she has for the kids and skips a meal herself.

“If it’s really low and I know the kids are going to be coming home, I won’t touch it,” she said.