The Utica Community Food Bank says they have made major improvements in the way they do business over the last three years. They're looking to continue those efforts, but as our Andrew Sorensen tells us, there are still some challenges standing in their way.
UTICA, N.Y. -- When Mark Wolber took over the Community Food Bank in 2009, the pantry had little food, the power was about to be shut off and it owed thousands to the IRS and the city after its tax exempt renewal was overlooked.
"As I stood there that morning, I had to make the decision as to whether to lock the door and walk away from it, or to make an attempt to try to oversee the operation and keep it going," Wolber said.
They also had to let go all of their staff and settle thousands of dollars of debt.
"Every one of the vendors waived the bill that they had and said please consider this as a donation," he explained.
Today, the food bank has cleared most of its tax debt and is even looking at future grants for improvements, but now they have other factors weighing them down.
"This time of year the donations slack off a little bit. I think people don't think about the needs for the food bank as they do around the holidays," Wolber said.
This year, the bank says the problem is worse because of the economy.
"On the average during the past 12 months, we have seen a 10 to 20 percent increase in assistance every month compared to what it was last year," Wolber said.
Linda Morales comes here with her daughter about every other week. She enjoys the company of the friendly volunteers.
"It's actually pretty nice here," she said.
But she and several other patrons we spoke with have noticed the considerable burden placed on the pantry.
"Sometimes we don't have any donations here, sometimes they are here. It's pretty much you come when you come and they have it or not," she said.
To make matters worse, the debt they still owe is largely from missing financial records prior to 2009.
The pantry plans to step up their fundraising to combat their problems as they continue to sort out their current situation. The Community Food Bank is hosting a fundraiser at Chanatry's on French Road in Utica on Tuesday.
The event will run from 7:00 a.m. through 7:00 p.m. and will include musical acts, an illusionist, and a special unveiling of a new Utica Fire Department pump.
They will be accepting both cash and food donations. They are particularly asking for fresh vegetables.