David stood outside the St. Agnes Church Monday morning waiting for his nephew, who was coming over with a box of food from the Ecumenical Panty's annual Thanksgiving turkey basket program.
"I used to work. Then I had a stroke, and now I am legally blind," David said. "It makes it hard to make a living. I am a poor person now. Life is a struggle. This food pantry is amazing. It helps me eat, and it helps my girlfriend. It is really nice around the holidays what these people do. This is really great. Lake Placid is really great for helping out the people that are that are having a difficult time. It helps me so."
"It means a lot," said his nephew Jeremy. "It helps me help my uncle. It means everything. That's what Thanksgiving is for."
Fritz, age one and a half, gives a loaf of bread for the food box to volunteer Tracy Roy. (Photo by Naj Wikoff)
Twelve percent of Essex County residents are living in poverty. Another 4 percent's income is only 50 percent above the poverty level.
"It's a struggle," said Denise Fredericks, who for decades ran the North Elba Christmas Fund and now volunteers for the food pantry. "Many couples have to work two jobs, both the husband and wife, and they barely keep their heads above water. Getting paid $10 an hour doesn't go far with the ever-increasing cost of health insurance, rent, heat and food. Many who live here or who are seasonal residents have no idea how many are poor. It doesn't enter their minds. We have a very generous community; don't get me wrong. It is just that many do not realize the level of poverty. I remember the first home I visited with the Christmas Fund; the woman had dirt floors."
The pantry's doors were scheduled to open at 10 a.m., but at 9:15 people were already lined up. The temperature had crept up to about 5 degrees. The doors were opened.
"They come in, fill out a card with their name, address, and number of children, sign on the bottom, and pick up a box to the left of us that has vegetables, cranberry sauce, bread and what-not, and at the top of the stairs they pick up a bag of potatoes, a turkey and a pie," said Fredericks. "We will be giving out over 300 boxes of food today to anyone in need."
Behind her, a steady line of volunteers picked up boxes, had them filled by other volunteers with a variety of canned goods, fresh vegetables, bread, and other food items and then brought them forward to be claimed by the incoming people.
"I started this in 1985," said Linda Young. "When we started, we first served 40, maybe 50 people."
"Hannaford called the parsonage or whatever you call it," said a woman volunteer. "They have bread waiting to be picked up."
"I will get someone to pick it up," said Linda. "We have planned for 300 families. We may run out today and have to go out and purchase some more. It's not even what, 10:30? We make deliveries to some homes as not everyone can get to us, but the majority do come in."
"I started volunteering in '94," said Lorrie Hunt. "The first year Linda gave us a basket, and I couldn't figure out why. She said because I was a single parent and I had two young kids. The next year I started helping her. Each year she would see me in the store and say, OK, it is on this date and this time. So she would just tell me. I volunteer because it makes me feel good. It really does and I am a firm believer in paying it forward. I do the same thing at Christmas, helping out with the dinner and at church, and the stuff with the town. They always helped me when my kids were younger because then I worked two and three jobs and still needed help."
"Rose is 3, and Fritz is 1?" asked Annie Winslow about the two youngest volunteers busily putting loaves of bread into the boxes. "We came here about an hour ago (9:30). We are members of St. Agnes. This is our first time volunteering at this event. Last year we didn't make it. They did it a little different last year, the way that have it set up this year makes it a little easier. We are volunteering because we wanted to help. It is a big job for St. Agnes, and we wanted to help."
"It's fun," said Rose.
"We are here for three turkeys and three pies," said a woman to Bob Jones, who was up in the back of an open truck.
"Three turkeys, apple or pumpkin pies?" asked Bob.
"Pumpkin please," said the woman.
"We had no trouble keeping these pies and turkeys frozen last night," said Bob.
"It was one degree when we got here," said Morman elder John Taylor.
"We started giving out at 9:30," said Bob. "They said it was to start at 10, but people came earlier. I have been doing this quite a few years. I do this and the food pantry. I am here every week, and the rest of the time at the Methodist Church or the Thrift Shop, because that generates money they use to buy food for the pantry and this program."
"This is my first time here," said Taylor. "I have been helping out at the Methodist soup kitchen Wednesdays, helping out over at Uihlein, at the Olympic Village, and the Episcopal Lunch Box on Thursdays. My wife and I are on a service mission for our church, so 18 months. We came out from Provo, Utah. We have been here for about a year looking for ways that we can serve in the community, so every time there is something to do we jump in."
"There is a real need," said Young. "It is not just serving the poor poor, but it's the two people working and struggling with the economy. They have already cut back twice with food stamps. People are really struggling in every which way. So it is not only the body, it's emotional, physical and spiritual. We try to fill that out. We try to direct them to the right people. We try to have all our resources together so I can direct that person. We depend on donations. We are very small. One person. Once someone asked what corporations sponsored us. There is only one person that runs it, it's Him.
"Everything else filters down from Him. That's why this ministry runs so well. I am just a servant, and the others are coming here to serve. People ask me, 'Linda how many people will be fed?' I really don't know. I know how much food we have and how much food is coming, but I really don't know. They ask, 'But what about everything else?' I don't know. It works for me because every year He puts it all together. Every year there is a group of new volunteers. Maybe some old ones come back. The atmosphere's the same. Everyone is here wanting and willing to work. Kids come in to help. The community comes together, and we feed people.
"Every year since 1985 we give food to everyone who comes. It's a challenge but it is rewarding; people are reaping the benefits from getting to know us, and we reap the benefits of getting to know them."
People can make donations to the Lake Placid Food Pantry, PO Box 1475, Lake Placid, NY 12946; donate food through Price Chopper or Hannaford; or bring it to the food pantry Friday mornings between 9 a.m. and noon.