Ida Taft calls herself one small link in a very long chain.

What she’s talking about is a chain of 32 food pantries and 34 community meal sites that extends across Broome County to provide emergency help to financially strapped families.

Coordinated by the Broome County Council of Churches, the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW) annually distributes about 1.3 million pounds of food, with volunteers a crucial part of the service.

Taft, 60, began volunteering 26 years ago in the pantry at All Saints Episcopal Church in Johnson City, her home church. For 25 of those years, she’s coordinated the operation of the pantry, which currently serves between 35 and 40 families each month.

Asked why she began, the Town of Maine woman uses a bit of humor: “I’m Italian. The urge to feed comes from my parents,” she said with a laugh. (Her maiden name was Romano.)

She remains passionate about the work because, she said, there’s a growing need in the community —  a need she thinks some people overlook.

Taft remembers one incident in particular. One year, as she was soliciting donations for CHOW’s Hunger Walk, a woman told her bluntly, “We don’t need that around here.”

But statistics tell a different story. About 14 percent of Broome County residents don’t have reliable access to nutritious food, according to the advocacy group Feeding America. Just as seriously, 25 percent of children countywide in 2013 were living below the poverty line, according to census data. Many of these people are the working poor, Taft said. They have jobs, but low-paying jobs, and can face the Hobson’s choice of paying the rent or buying food.

“CHOW is a lifeline for a lot of people in the community, especially at the end of month, when food stamps run out. That’s when we see an increase,” she said.

CHOW has grown from the basement of West Presbyterian Church in Binghamton to the countywide network it is today. None of this would be possible without the volunteers, who staff the pantries, warehouse and other services, said Karen Reynolds, resource and referral office manager for CHOW. About 240 volunteers served 2,500 people in September.

Taft is an example of this commitment, Reynolds said: “She’s good with the clients, easy to work with and always available to help.”

In her job as coordinator, Taft oversees nine volunteers, mostly retired persons, who staff the pantry at All Saints Episcopal Mondays through Thursdays from 10 to 11 a.m. She is also in charge of ordering food once a month from CHOW’s warehouse.

When CHOW’s supply falls short, Taft said she can count on members of All Saints Episcopal to fill the gap. “For a small church, we have a generous church,” she said.

The pantry is in a rear room of the church. Its shelves are filled with canned meats, canned vegetables, boxes of cereal and other non-perishable items. Taft also keeps a small bowl of candy on hand to treat children if they accompany their parents.

Families are entitled to one visit each month after being referred by United Way’s First Call for Help or the Council of Churches. Taft is proud that her pantry has never had to turn someone away because it’s run out of food.

“Some people are embarrassed (about taking the service), so you smile and ask them how they’re doing. You show kindness to them. Just a smile can make people feel at ease,” she said.

Still, Taft knows some people can make unkind comments about the needy. People who make these comments should remember they don’t know somebody’s situation unless they’ve lived it, she said: “You need to walk a mile in their shoes.”

Besides coordinating the pantry’s operation, Taft is on hand every year to hand out T-shirts at the Hunger Walk, CHOW’s largest fundraiser.

She considers herself very fortunate. She has a loving family and even beat a bout of breast cancer. Most of all, she’s never been hungry.

“I can’t imagine opening a cupboard and not seeing food,” she said. “I know I can’t help everybody, but at least I’m doing what I can in my little corner.”

Ida Taft

Home: Town of Maine.

Hometown:West Corners.

Education:Union-Endicott High School.

Age: 60.

Family: Married for 40 years, two grown daughters and four grandchildren.

Place of employment: Homemaker.

Outside interests: Doing anything outside with the grandchildren, rooting for the NewYork Mets and gardening.

About CHOW

  • Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse began operating in the spring of 1976.
  • About 80 percent of CHOW’s food comes from local donations, through such activities as food donations, the annual Hunger Walk and the Round Up campaign. About 20 percent of the food comes from the Food Bank of the Southern Tier in Elmira.
  • CHOW recently opened a new facility that aims to bring people out of poverty by providing skills and job training. 

To see the full article, go to:  http://www.pressconnects.com/story/news/connections/giving-back/2015/10/30/volunteers-like-her-links-chow-chain/74870510/


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