October 23, 2021

Seven Valleys receives $75K to aid Cortland County food programs

Kevin L. Smith/staff reporter

Ken Ellis, left, picks up a box of food Wednesday from the food pantry at the First United Methodist Church in Cortland. Also pictured are food pantry organizers Nancy Space and Denise Banner-Haley. The church offers a drive-through food pantry service 3:30 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays

The Seven Valleys Health Coalition was awarded a $75,000 grant to expand Cortland County food programs, including equipment for food pantries and other programs, Seven Valleys has announced.

The funding from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation will help Seven Valleys’ work with the Cortland Food Project policy council, the hunger coalition, and a new food-rescue program where volunteers divvy up large donations of food to the county’s nearly two dozen food pantries and programs. The grant will also help the 211 Cortland Information and Referral Service.

About $30,000 of the grant will pay for equipment at six food programs, including Cortland-Chenango Rural Services, Loaves and Fishes, food pantries in Homer and Marathon, the Salvation Army and the United Methodist Church in Virgil, some of which need coolers, refrigerators and a stove.

“We’re grateful for the grant and the ability to increase our cold food storage with the funding,” said Carol Corbin, a volunteer at the Homer food pantry. “It will help us take advantage of county food rescue programs and distribute fresh produce, which we have not been able to do.”

The grant comes after a group of local farmers and a group of food program volunteers attended the Cortland Food Project’s hunger coalition subcommittee meeting in April to discuss how to ease hunger, which has seen a spike with the coronavirus pandemic, said Susan Williams, assistant director for Seven Valleys.

“We completed a food rescue of over 700 pounds of donated fresh produce,” Williams said. “Our AmeriCorps member followed up with a survey to all county food programs looking to establish a baseline assessment of infrastructure capacity and needs. What we heard were several programs expressing frustration over lack of storage, lack of funding, and other issues created by COVID, and we wanted to find a concrete way to help.”

Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program rose nearly 7% between February and March, when the pandemic first arrived in Cortland County, said Kristen Monroe, county commissioner of social services.

New York state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance also automatically issued the maximum SNAP benefit from March through June — regardless of the applicant’s income, said Deputy Commissioner Brian Moore, up to $194 for an individual to $1,164 for a household of eight.

Spike in hunger

Here are the number of Cortland County households that received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds this year:

January: 3,165
February: 3,129
March: 3,164
April: 3,343
May: 3,227

SOURCE: Cortland County Department of Social Services

Additional benefits were available for SNAP households that were not eligible to receive the maximum benefit before the pandemic, Monroe said. “These households would have had income that reduced the amount of benefits they received, but still put them in the financially eligible range for benefits.”

The state has allocated more than $100 million in additional emergency food assistance and $300 million in other benefits for 750,000 low-income households enrolled in SNAP.

“It’s a really big relief that this funding is coming into the county,” Williams said. “There was a fear that there would be a significant increase because of the pandemic, but the assistance from the state and others is great.”