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Be the Change: The Food Pantries for the Capital District

By Natalie Criscione

As I reflect upon my interview with Natasha Pernicka, Executive Director of The Food Pantries for the Capital District, I find myself thinking about the organization’s “tag line” which is: “Working together we can do more than any one of us alone.” I think about the volunteers and staff, hundreds of them, who operate nearly 70 individual pantries in Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga counties. I think about The Food Pantries staff and drivers who tirelessly work to provide food and services to those pantries in their collective efforts to end hunger. 

And I think about you, the Honest Weight Food Co-op shopper, who rounds up to the nearest dollar every time you check out at the register. It’s a seemingly small gesture, but it is crucial. Not only does the change add up, but you become part of a larger group, “working together” for the greater good.  

These days, greater good is needed more than ever. Times are tough. The child tax credit ended last year, SNAP Emergency allotments were cut, inflation continues to rise (with food inflation climbing even higher), and people are “turning to food pantries who had never had to turn to them before,” says Pernicka. “Last year we delivered 3.6 million pounds of food and we are experiencing an increase this year.” 70,000 people in our area turn to food pantries each year, and the numbers are rising.

In the greater Albany area, where 40% of the residents are living either below the federal poverty line or within the parameters outlined by United Way’s “ALICE” (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed—a comprehensive picture of financial hardship) index, food pantries provide a valuable service.  

And, it’s not just those experiencing poverty who are seeking the aid of food pantries. A large population subsisting just above the defined poverty line is also struggling, sometimes making hard choices that involve paying either rent or utilities, or paying for either food or prescription medicine. During a month when there is an extra expense like a medical bill or a car repair, a family can rapidly experience financial hardship. We are talking about incomes that can be described as “survival budgets, not thriving budgets,” says Pernicka. 

What does that mean? How does one know where they are on the continuum, or how to locate a pantry? “It’s important for people to know,” says Pernicka, “that food pantries are not income based; anyone who is experiencing financial hardship can go to a food pantry and come home with groceries.” That is a message that should come as a relief to those who find themselves faced with difficult choices. One can easily locate a nearby pantry through the The Food Pantries’ Connect Map: .

And, if you’re in a position to help, visit to find out how you might volunteer your time or make a donation. As of this writing, “30% of the member food pantries are not sure if they will have enough resources to make it to the end of the year.” Simply stated: we are all needed. 

During the month of December, when you say “yes” to the question “Would you like to round up to the nearest dollar,” know you are “working together” with The Food Pantries to help them access and deliver food, purchase diapers and formula, and supplement individual pantries in their fundraising efforts. Change will not happen alone.

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