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Hunger – invisible to many, but need is great at food pantry

Hunger in a community like Hooksett can be an invisible problem. You might be totally unaware of neighbors in economic difficulty. Even people who are employed may not earn enough to cover their basic living expenses. And when that happens, often times it’s food that gets cut back the most. Fortunately, there are those in the community who work to prevent those neighbors from going hungry, and many more who give in order to support those efforts.

The Hooksett Food Pantry operates from the back of the Hooksett Town Hall. Its history traces back to 2005, but in 2009 it officially became sponsored by the Kiwanis Foundation and moved to its current location. It’s there that volunteers collect donations, obtain food and distribute it to individuals and families in need in Hooksett.

According to pantry Chairman Barbara Brennan, the number of those in need of help has grown steadily.

“It’s a sign of the times” said Brennan. Food distributions from the pantry have risen about 20 percent each year since 2010 with a similar increase in the number of individuals and families seeking assistance. Since January 2011, 245 Hooksett families have applied for assistance

There is no typical client of the Hooksett Food Pantry, according to Brennan.

“Senior citizens on fixed incomes,” she said, “families with both spouses out of jobs ... single moms.”

Some are disabled. Some are employed full time but earn so little that they can’t make ends meet. But there are those that hit a rough patch and come to the pantry for help, but get back on their feet in a few months.

Anyone seeking help from the pantry should meet guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, since much of the food at the Pantry comes from that agency. But even if a family doesn’t not meet those need guidelines, a six-member committee reviews each applicant.

“We try not to say no to anyone who is in need,” said Brennan. In fact, according to Brennan, no one seeking help the last three years has been turned away.

Shaw’s is the

biggest contributor

Filling the pantry is a community effort. Pantry volunteers shop for deals like any budget-conscious shopper. But the leading source of food for the Hooksett Food Pantry is Shaw’s Supermarkets, which has a store in the Hooksett Village Shoppes on Route 3.

Brennan said Shaw’s holds its “Spirit of Giving” campaign around the Christmas holidays, but they also provide food year round.

“They call us and ask us what we need,” she said.

Other Hooksett markets like Hannaford, Market Basket and Wal-Mart also help raise money. Plus a portion of money dropped into Salvation Army kettles at Christmas finds its way to the food pantry.

But the largest source of food and funding comes from Shaw’s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Salvation Army and the Boy Scouts. There are two large seasonal drives every year – “Stamp Out Hunger” in May by the U.S. Postal Service, and “Scouting for Food” by the Boy Scouts in November. Brennan said those drives get them through slow times in summer and winter.

Cash helps more than food

Brennan stressed the best way to help the Hooksett Food Pantry is with cash donations. While donations of actual food items are appreciated, they may not meet the nutritional goals the pantry tries to maintain. Also the pantry cannot distribute food past its expiration date. So those can drives where people empty their cabinets don’t always help if the food given is old.

One unique way the community helps out is by donating fruits and vegetables grown in gardens. Fresh produce can have a limited shelf life so those items are distributed quickly. But money is still the best form of support.

“That way, we can be specific and get exactly what we need” said Brennan.

If you need help

The Hooksett Food Pantry is open a variety of hours weekdays: Mondays, 9:30 a.m. to noon; Tuesdays, 2 to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to noon and 3:30 to 6 p.m.; Thursdays, 2 to 4:30 p.m; and Fridays 9:30 a.m. to noon. You can also call and leave a message at 485-7222.

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