Rising grocery prices fuel food pantry demand in Exeter, NH

EXETER — In recent months, the city Society of Saint Vincent de Paul Community Assistance Centerone of the largest pantries in the Seacoast region, has seen an increase in visitors.

Molly Zirillo, executive director of the pantry, said that in the past the organization typically saw about 20 households during each of the pantry hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic and before commodity prices rose.

“It’s really starting to climb,” Zirillo said.

And it’s not just Exeter. A recent survey of Feed Americaa nonprofit network of 200 food banks, found that 155 pantries reported an increase in the number of families coming to their door.

The increase is due to the rising cost of groceries due to inflation. According to Consumer Price Index Report, food prices rose 11.2% from a year ago and 0.8% from the previous month. Everything from meat and grains to fruits and vegetables is more expensive.

The price hike comes after a global pandemic.

Zirillo said before the pandemic, families came once a month.

“During the pandemic, everything went off the rails,” Zirillo said, as families faced job loss and reduced wages and other economic hardships. “We encourage people to come on a weekly basis (now) because not all of us have recovered. We really want to see qualified people to date us.

The pantry, she said, is also feeling the pressure of rising inflation, as the cost to keep the building open rises.

“It costs us about five thousand dollars a week to keep our doors open because we don’t charge anything and we give everything,” Zirillo said.

While the majority of visitors come from Exeter, the pantry also serves the neighboring towns of Brentwood, East Kingston, Kensington, Newfields and Stratham.

“People think Exeter is quite a posh town, but there are two sides to Exeter, and Exeter has one of the highest mobile home park populations in the state,” Zirillo said.

In 2021, the food pantry served 2,025 families by distributing 213,910 pounds of food. They also delivered 322 meals to homebound seniors.

After: 10 big developments – including housing and retail – that will change the face of Exeter

Keep the shelves full

Zirillo said each week the organization traveled to the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester, where they collected their food supply to distribute. Some of the food is free, but things like dairy will cost money, she said.

Additionally, she says, the organization relies on generous donations from the city, community members and Hannaford.

“Hannaford is incredibly generous with us (providing day-old breads and pastries),” Zirillo said. “The growing season is starting to end, but in the summer we have a lot of gardeners and farmers donating (their produce).”

Zirillo said they not only strive to provide food, but also food with nutritional value. She said if it wasn’t something she would serve her family, she wasn’t inclined to have it in the pantry.

“We are not nutritional outlets…but we work very hard to try to improve our nutritional values,” she said. “We want to be the change in the world, we don’t just want processed foods that are high in sodium and have no nutritional value.”

Often the most in-demand items, she said, are personal care items such as body washes, toothbrushes, shampoos and coffee.

Alzheimer Café at the NH SPCA: Alzheimer’s Cafe at the New Hampshire SPCA: Animals, Coffee, and Conversation

More than just a pantry

Although the city’s SVDP is well known for its pantry program, Zirillo said the organization provides much more than that.

“We take a holistic approach to making sure people get all the available resources they are entitled to because we’re trying to lift people out of poverty – not just quick fixes,” she said.

These initiatives include assistance to people with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), fuel assistance, and medical assistance. Zirillo said the organization also partners with Families First to provide medical and dental assistance to homeless, unstable or low-income adults.

“It’s about sustainability, we want to give people solutions they can sustain and they can stabilize because we’re really looking to influence systemic changes in people’s lives to lift them out of poverty,” he said. added Zirillo.

How can I get help in Saint-Vincent de Paul?

Pantry: The pantry is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. It is also open Monday evening from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Senior home delivery service: St. Vincent de Paul delivers to homebound seniors once a month who live at 277 Water Street and Meeting Place.

Dental Services: Emergency dental care through Families First is offered on a first-come, first-served basis from the SVDP Exeter dental van. Dental services are available for low-income adults in New Hampshire and Maine, including limited exams, x-rays, fillings and extractions for a sliding fee. Contact Families First at (603) 422-8208 for more information.

Health care: Medical services are offered in the on-site medical van through Families First for adults who are homeless, without stable housing or on low income. A doctor, a nurse and a social worker are available to receive patients without an appointment. The medical van is open on Wednesdays from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

How can I help?

Food donations: You can drop off your donations at the center during opening hours: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cleo Castonguay donates the tree: Show your support by purchasing a leaf on their donation tree. Individually engraved sheets are available for donors to purchase. The bronze leaf is available for donations of $1,000 to $2,500. Silver leaf is available for donations of $2,500 to $5,000 and gold leaf for donations of $5,000 or more.

Vehicle donations: The Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA National Vehicle Donation Program accepts all vehicles, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, and trailers. The vehicle does not have to be driven and will be towed at no cost to you. Once sold at auction, proceeds will revert directly to SVdP Exeter.

Volunteer: The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul has nearly 200 “Vincentian” volunteers who have taken on various roles in the service of clients. Visit svdpexeter.com/volunteer/ to learn more about becoming a volunteer.