By Alex Lippa
---- — There’s a big red box between the doors at the Londonderry Market Basket. People walk by it every day without even glancing at it, but for many people the box is crucial.
“It’s one of our biggest sources for food,” said Annetta Steen, treasurer of the First Baptist Church Community Food Pantry in Derry. “Especially right now, because donations are terribly needed.”
Food collection boxes in grocery stores are one of the “603 Reasons” people say New Hampshire is special, but there is a need for more donations.
“We’ve seen an increase in distribution of about 6 percent,” said Nancy Mellitt, director of development for the New Hampshire Food Bank. “More people are in need of food.”
Steen said the response has been disappointing.
“We only fill about three or four bags a week at Market Basket,” she said. “At Shaw’s in Derry, it’s even less than that. But the need continues to be there. We’ve seen many more children this year than in years past. “
Fran Rosenau, who leads the St. Anne’s Ecumenical Food Pantry in Hampstead, said their supply is starting to dry up.
“This is our lowest point,” she said. “We’re really waiting for the holidays to start.”
David MacLean, spokesman for Market Basket, said the majority of their stores offer customers a chance to donate to a local pantry.
“Usually, when we enter a city or town, we’ll reach out to local pantries to set up a box,” he said. “Many organizations choose to take advantage of it,”
Eric Bloom, spokesman for Hannaford, said he was unsure how many stores offer permanent collection boxes. But they do offer an alternative.
“Starting in November, we have ‘Hannaford Fights Hunger,’” he said. “It allows people to buy boxes of food to donate to pantries. Individual stores will have a kiosk where people can make cash donations to a variety of different charities.”
Grocery stores also donate surplus products to food banks. But Mellitt said it has declined in recent years.
“They are not as generous as they used to be because they are better at inventory control,” she said.
That’s a problem for Mellitt.
“We are continually looking for new donors,” she said. “We’ve had to purchase about 45 percent of food we distribute.”
Pam Lamontagne is experiencing similar struggles at St. Thomas Aquinas Food Pantry in Derry.
“August and September are generally our worst months,” she said. “When the kids were home from school, we often had to give away extra meals, which is affecting our supply now.”
Lamontagne said they get donations from a number of places, including a box at Shaw’s in Derry. But there are specific needs she’s looking for.
“Protein is the biggest thing,” she said. “We’re looking for things like soups, tuna, and canned chicken. The other big thing is personal products like shampoo and soap.”
But not all food pantries are in dire need. The Rev. Tom Gerdts of Rockingham Christian Church in Salem said that food pantry is in decent shape.
“We can always use assistance, but it’s not a panicky need,” Gerdts said.
He said they haven’t needed to put a box in local grocery stores because of sufficient donations from his congregation and because they have had access to the New Hampshire Food Bank.
“We’ve worked hard to keep a standard of excellence,” he said. “We keep a cash balance to supplement what we already get for donations.”
Even the food pantries which are struggling, they are confident it will turn around soon.
“Our best season is around the holidays,” Steen said. “Everyone is in a giving mood.”
Some local pantries Derry: First Baptist Church Food Pantry, 44 East Broadway, open Tuesdays from 3:30 to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Requesting peanut butter, tuna, canned chicken, pasta, rice, instant potatoes. St. Thomas Aquinas Food Pantry, 28 Crystal Ave., open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Requesting soup, tuna, canned chicken, protein, shampoo, soap. Hampstead: St. Anne's Ecumenical Pantry, 22 Emerson Ave. , open Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Requesting canned vegetables, canned soup, macaroni and cheese, cereal, pasta sauce, toiletries, peanut butter, tuna. Salem: Rockingham Christian Church Pantry, 5 Industrial Drive, open first and third Tuesday of the month from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Requesting canned goods, cereal, rice.