By Jann Wiswall

Like most communities in Cattaraugus County, the Limestone-Carrollton area has many needy residents who qualify for nutrition benefits.

Until recently, Limestone-Carrollton’s food pantry (LCFP) had only been open one day per month to serve its community. But when Sheree and Eugene Dixon took over the pantry in January, they enlisted the help of Cattaraugus Community Action and the United Church of Ellicottville Community Food Pantry’s co-administrator Annie Widger to expand its services.

On behalf of Community Action, Widger has been sharing her extensive knowledge with the Dixons and has been able to work through a number of complicated issues over the past few months to help them reach their goal of being open on a weekly basis, offering a broader range of food products and giving clients more food choices.

The biggest hurdle was getting the LCFP official non-profit, 501(c)3 status in order to be able to take advantage of the full array of Food Bank of WNY system’s services. Temporarily, Widger arranged with the United Church of Ellicottville to act as a “sister pantry” to LCFP, enabling it to apply for much needed grant funding. Over the next year, the pantry will work toward filing for its own permit.

Now that the LCFP is able to tap into that system, the pantry will be able to access pool grants to improve its processes and provide more services.

The Dixons also have rearranged the pantry, which is located in the Town of Carrollton’s Highway Department building on Route 219 just south of the village of Limestone.

In the past, food pantry volunteers packed identical boxes of food for clients to pick up once a month. Now, it is following the guidelines of a “choice pantry,” allowing clients to come in, get a shopping cart and make selections based on their personal needs.

“People really love having choices,” Sheree Dixon said. “We’ve reorganized everything by food group to make selection easier for clients. We’ve posted signage and instructions and walk people through the process to ensure they get all the meats, grains and dairy products they’re entitled to each month, as well as all the fresh produce they can use.”

For some clients who are not mobile enough to make the trip to the pantry — especially seniors and disabled clients — volunteers still assemble and deliver monthly food boxes.

While Widger and the Dixons have made major progress, there is still a lot of work to do. One of the most important tasks is to get the word out about the pantry and how people can access its services. Currently, the pantry serves about 40 families/individuals each month, but the Dixons know that more community members qualify but just don’t realize it.

Generally speaking, if a family qualifies for federal nutrition benefits such as WIC or SNAP, it probably also qualifies for food pantry services. However, some individuals and families may qualify for food pantry services even if they don’t receive federal benefits.

And, as Sheree Dixon points out, many people qualify but don’t ask for help out of pride. It’s important to know that all information about food pantry clients is completely confidential.

Another challenge for the pantry is to increase local support, food drives and contributions. Unlike in Ellicottville, where there are dozens of businesses and charitable organizations that wholeheartedly support its pantry, LCFP has very few businesses to tap for support. Widger and the Dixons are looking at ways to reach out to neighboring communities, governments, schools and perhaps across the Pennsylvania border to seek assistance.

Finally, the pantry desperately needs reliable volunteers to keep it running as smoothly as possible. The work may be stocking shelves, packing boxes, unloading trucks or helping out with a number of other tasks.

The Limestone/Carrollton Food Pantry is open every Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. and every Friday from 6-8 p.m. For more information about accessing services or to volunteer, please contact Sheree or Eugene Dixon at (716) 925-8748.

Oh, and the Ellicottville Food Pantry also needs volunteers! Please call (716) 699-4003 if you can spare some time.