Community support amid inflation gives local pantries reason to be grateful

Nov. 24 – In addition to their pantries, The Community Kitchen in Keene and the Federated Church of Marlborough provided nearly 400 families in the Monadnock area with complete Thanksgiving meal packages this year.

But Sarah Harpster, executive director of The Community Kitchen, said that feeding 353 families was no easy task due to inflation.

The nonprofit received Thanksgiving donations from Piccadilly Farm in Winchester, Chroma Technology in Bellows Falls, Summit Athletic Center in Keene, anonymous donors, and the New Hampshire and Vermont Food Banks. Harpster said the community support was heartwarming and encouraging.

“We used to have people here who would talk about ‘kitchen karma’ because you’d be like, ‘Oh no, we don’t have that article,’ and then the next day it would pop up one way or another,” she said. “It really felt like that was going to work for us this year, especially since it’s so expensive and so difficult to get everything done.”

Inflation has affected the nonprofit’s work beyond Thanksgiving meals. She said that for the first 10 months of 2021, each meal cost $2.20. In the first 10 months of 2022, each equivalent meal cost $3.40.

And as the cost of food continues to rise, so does the number of families in need. The Community Kitchen provided 49 more Thanksgiving boxes this year than last Thanksgiving.

Despite the rising costs, the organization was still able to serve 197,151 pantry and hot meals between January and October 31st.

Challenges late last week meant that Harpster and her team had to buy and collect more items to complete the Thanksgiving boxes, but they didn’t have to cut anything from the usual offerings except whole pies. Everything else, she said, was covered by last-minute purchases and donations.

Meal package recipients received a turkey or chicken or vegetarian option, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, onions, apples, oranges, cranberry sauce, gravy, green beans, mushroom soup, stuffing and buns, eggs and butter, and dessert.

“It’s really hard,” Harpster said. “We’ve gone well over our budget and really depend on the community to help us do what we do.”

Sue Bemis, responsible for the pantry at the Federated Church of Marlborough, was also able to ship full Thanksgiving boxes thanks to area donors and the NH Food Bank.

But even when the Manchester-based food bank ran out of turkeys to give to the church, the food bank was able to send Hannaford gift cards so families could buy their own, Bemis said.

The church also received donations from Marlborough’s Frogg Brewing, The American Legion and Homestead Thrift Shop in Marlborough, and additional support from the NH Food Bank.

As with The Community Kitchen, Bemis said inflation has hit her pantry hard, and understaffing has been an additional hurdle this year. Bemis, who runs Kidz Cupboard, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Marlborough children with food insecurity, said she stepped in to continue running the pantry since the last administrative assistant in charge of it left just months before Thanksgiving.

Despite those challenges, Bemis said she’s grateful this year for making the early decision to keep the Thanksgiving program going and give the pantry time to properly prepare. The families received turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans, cream of mushroom soup, potatoes, carrots, onions and ingredients for cakes.

The pantry was able to provide 45 meal sets this year thanks to donations and their shoppers who went to different locations to find the components of the boxes.

“We were fortunate to have the money and donations from church and community members,” Bemis said. “We are very grateful for what we have received.”

Jamie Browder can be reached at extension 352-1234. 1427 or [email protected]