NORTH SMITHFIELD – Everything for a first-ever food pantry in town seems to be in place. There are plenty of volunteers willing to donate their time to man the pantry and the town has already started receiving funds from well-wishers to purchase food to get it started.
The only thing missing is an actual space to house the pantry.
The idea for a town food pantry began to gel last year when Town Administrator Paulette D. Hamilton assembled a group of local church and civic leaders to address the number of growing calls to her office from residents seeking a local food bank.
However, securing a location remains the largest hurdle after the town's call last year for donated space went unanswered.
But Hamilton says there's still hope and announced Tuesday that a renewed effort has begun. This time around, Hamilton has joined forces with School Committee Chairman Robert Lafleur and Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield) to secure a location.
“We will be working with the School Department to assist in this endeavor and will work with local volunteers to run the operation once it is up and functioning,” said Hamilton. “We have already started receiving funds to purchase food for the pantry and will be keeping the public apprised of our progress.”
“I welcome Mr. Lafleur and Sen. Tassoni’s assistance in finding a space for this important need in our community,” she said.
When talks began last year, it was determined that the town would needs two spaces - a storage space of about 100 square feet and a "store" with 300 to 400 square feet or more. One large space could be divided to accommodate both needs, said Hamilton, adding the space also needs to be on an accessible level with reasonable parking.
The economy and Rhode Island’s skyrocketing unemployment rate has seen a growing number of people turning to Rhode Island food pantries and other social-service agencies for help.
North Smithfield is not immune.
“Calls to Town Hall have increased during the past two years with people seeking information about a food pantry in town,” said Hamilton. “I wanted to see what we could do as a community to help people.”
A landmark study released last year by the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, depicts the hardships facing clients served through the Food Bank’s network of emergency food programs. According to the report, most client households live in poverty and are unable to afford adequate food. In Rhode Island, four out of every 10 served are families with children.
The study, commissioned by Feeding America, was produced by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., a social policy research firm that is nationally recognized as a leader in the field of human services research. Hunger in America 2010 is the first research study to capture the significant connection between the current economic downturn and the increased need for emergency food assistance. Reflecting the high rate of job loss and unemployment, in one-fifth of Rhode Island client households, an adult was laid off during the past year.
“The number of people served each month at emergency food programs in Rhode Island has grown to more than 50,000,” states Andrew Schiff, chief executive officer of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. “It is extremely troubling that so many Rhode Islanders need food assistance. In particular, the number of children served through our network is of enormous concern since hunger takes a tremendous toll on children’s learning and health.”
At program sites throughout Rhode Island, Food Bank staff members and volunteers conducted interviews with 361 clients as part of the national study. Many of the clients who participated in face-to-face interviews reported having to make difficult choices between food and other basic necessities: 41 percent of client households explained that they have such limited income that they must choose between paying for food and paying their rent or mortgage. Additionally, 43 percent had to decide whether to pay for food or pay their utility bills; 32 percent made choices between food and medicine or health care.