For Thanksgiving this year, the NH Food Bank distributed 19,000 turkeys to food pantries and shelters across the state. 200 of these turkeys went to the Plymouth Food Pantry and NHPR’s Sean Hurley stopped by as they were handed out.
At the pantry counter, Plymouth resident Joel Hartz looks over the makings of his Thanksgiving dinner. A cardboard box full of peppers, potatoes, onions – a turkey. “I never thought I'd ever stand in this shoe,” Hartz says and laughs and aims his cane at the medical boot on his recently fractured foot.
In case I don’t get the double meaning, gestures around the inside of the food pantry. “I never ever thought I'd be standing here,” he says. “Normally speaking I'm a business person and I participate in the community. Never thought I would be here. I've got two small kids.”
But following a recent accident the single father found himself out of work, out of money and running out of food. “I'm a banker by trade,” Hartz says, “I wear a suit most of the time, but I grew up - my dad's a builder - so I'm very handy and so I'm up on the roof getting ready for winter. Boom. And all of a sudden it's over.”
Food Pantry interim manager Donna Gorton says she hears stories like this all the time. “Our numbers grow every month,” she says. “They grow.”
Even so, Gorton says she knows plenty of people in the community still going hungry - who know about the food pantry, but for various reasons won’t make use of it. “There's more than what we think there is. Yes,” Gorton says.
Jody Porter from Plymouth says it’s a hard line to cross. “At first it was like you look around and you think ‘Oh my god, are they really judging me because I'm having a hard time?’” Porter says. “I'm driving a nice car and I'm wearing rather good clean clothes. Do they think that I'm just using it to abuse it. And I don't have a problem or an issue, you know?”
Porter’s been making weekly use of the pantry for two years now – and still finds it hard to come. “And it's either the embarrassment or the need,” she says. “And when you go without then you realize ‘I can't let my pride get in the way.’”
But it’s not just pride that keeps some people away Donna Gorton says, and leads me outside. On a little patch of road down the hill behind the pantry, there’s a man who lives in a van. “He actually made some steps over here to get down,” Gorton says.
She believes the man made the steps so he wouldn’t slip on his way back down the hill from the pantry – and thinks he ran into trouble getting food from prior pantry management because he lacked an address. “So certainly if you can make contact with him, you let him know that management has changed and he is welcomed,” she says.
I head down to the van to deliver Gorton’s message - but he’s not there. I think about leaving a note under the windshield wiper, but that doesn’t seem right. I will have to come back tomorrow or the next day to let him know that the stairs he made are still good, that if he’s hungry, he is welcome at the pantry.