One of Catholic Charities special-services agencies is Food Bank of the Southern Tier, with headquarters at 945 County Road 64 in Elmira. It is one of eight food banks in New York state certified by Feeding America, the national umbrella organization for food banking. Food Bank of the Southern Tier’s primary activity is distributing food and personal-need items to children and families in need through its distribution network of 184 hunger-relief agencies in the six-county territory of Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins, Tioga and Broome counties. Last year the network distributed nearly 7 million pounds of food.
The food bank was established in 1981 by the late Father Neil Miller, then executive director of the Southern Tier Office of Social Ministry, as Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier was then known. Father Miller and the board of directors acted on a recommendation made by Sister Rosaria Hughes, Southern Tier program developer, who had attended an Arizona conference where the seeds of food banking began to germinate. Father Miller and the Southern Tier board decided to implement Sister Hughes’ recommendation to start the Community Food Bank of the Southern Tier with Walter Cronyx as its first director. Its first office and warehouse was located at 957 Grand Central Ave. in Elmira. David Biviano, a Southern Tier board member, was the first Food Bank Advisory Council chairperson.
Since its inception, the food bank has been a vital cog in hunger-relief activities in its six-county area. In its earliest years, the food bank had just two staff members, a cadre of volunteers from local churches and a rented truck, but by the mid-1980s it was able to distribute 1 million pounds of food per year. Now the agency has a staff of 26, a fleet of trucks and a volunteer corps, and is committed to increasing its annual distribution volume to 16 million pounds, a figure based on projections of what is needed to ensure food security for every person in its service area who is living within 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline.
To accomplish this goal, the agency has created a number of new programs including the Mobile Food Pantry, the Backpack Program and the Summer Feeding Program. The Mobile Food Pantry consists of the use of converted beverage trucks that become pantries on wheels through which food products are delivered to needy people in the most rural areas. Each Friday during the school year, the Backpack Program provides children who are at risk of hunger with a bag of nutritious, easy-to-prepare food for the weekend. The Summer Feeding Program provides free, nutritious meals to low-income children when school is not in session.
"Hunger in America," a recent study conducted by Feeding America and Food Bank of the Southern Tier, shows that unprecedented numbers of children and families rely on food assistance from food banking. Nationally nearly 37 million Americans, including 14 million children, receive emergency food each year through the national network of food banks and hunger-relief agencies, the study shows. It also documents a 46-percent increase in the number of people relying on food assistance when compared to a similar study done in 2006. In Food Bank of the Southern Tier’s territory, approximately 60,000 individuals currently are at risk of food insecurity.
Natasha Thompson, president and CEO of the food bank since June 2008, is excited about the food bank’s future and direction.
"Our board of directors and staff are committed to ending hunger in our local communities. Toward that end we are taking steps to expand our operations by moving to the Seneca Beverage facility in Elmira in 2011, which will multiply by four the space we will have for warehousing, repacking, trucking and general office operations," Thompson said.
Mary Pat Dolan, chairperson of the board of directors, added her enthusiasm to Thompson’s.
"Our board of directors is committed to making our mission a reality -- that no one will go hungry," she said. "We’re preparing for a major capital campaign to help purchase the new facility, upgrade the equipment we need to operate effectively and help grow our operations. We are thankful for our member agencies and the many donors and supporters of our food bank."