Community support amid inflation gives local pantries reason to be thankful

Nov. 24—Between their food pantries, The Community Kitchen in Keene and the Federated Church of Marlborough provided nearly 400 families in the Monadnock Region full Thanksgiving meal packages this year.

But Sarah Harpster, The Community Kitchen's executive director, said feeding 353 families was no easy feat due to inflation.

The nonprofit received Thanksgiving donations from Picadilly Farm in Winchester, Chroma Technology in Bellows Falls, Summit Athletic Center in Keene, anonymous donors, and the New Hampshire and Vermont food banks. Harpster said the support from the community was heartwarming and encouraging.

"We used to have people here who would talk about 'kitchen karma' because you say, 'Oh no, we don't have this item,' and then the next day it would show up one way or another," she said. "It really felt like that was working for us this year, especially with it being so expensive and so hard to get everything done."

Inflation has affected the nonprofit's work beyond Thanksgiving meals. She said that in the first 10 months of 2021, each meal cost $2.20. In the first 10 months of 2022, each equivalent meal cost $3.40.

As food costs continue to rise, so do the number of families in need. The Community Kitchen provided 49 more Thanksgiving boxes this year than last Thanksgiving.

Despite the increasing costs, the organization was still able to serve 197,151 pantry and hot meals between January and Oct. 31.

Challenges late last week forced Harpster and her team to buy and collect more items to complete the Thanksgiving boxes, but they didn't have to cut anything from the usual offerings besides whole pies. Everything else, she said, was covered by last-minute purchases and donations.

Meal-package recipients got a turkey or chicken or vegetarian option, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, onions, apples, oranges, cranberry sauce, gravy, green beans, mushroom soup, stuffing and rolls, eggs and butter and dessert.

"It's really hard," Harpster said. "We've way overspent our budget and we're just really depending on the community to help us keep doing what we do."

Sue Bemis, in charge of the Federated Church of Marlborough's food pantry, was also able to send out full Thanksgiving boxes thanks to donors in the area and the N.H. Food Bank.

But even when the Manchester-based food bank ran out of turkeys to give the church, Bemis said, the food bank was still able to send Hannaford gift cards so families could buy their own.

The church also received donations from Marlborough's Frogg Brewing, The American Legion and Homestead Thrift Shop in Marlborough, as well as additional support from the N.H. Food Bank.

As at The Community Kitchen, Bemis said inflation hit her pantry hard, and understaffing was an additional hurdle this year. Bemis, who runs the Kidz Cupboard, a nonprofit organization designed to help Marlborough children with food insecurity, said she stepped in to continue running the pantry as the last administrative assistant in charge of it left just months before Thanksgiving.

Despite these challenges, Bemis said she was thankful this year for deciding early to keep the Thanksgiving program running, giving the pantry time to properly prepare. Families received turkeys, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans, cream of mushroom soup, potatoes, carrots, onions and ingredients for pies.

Thanks to donations and her shoppers going multiple places to find the boxes' components, the pantry was able to provide 45 meal kits this year.

"We were lucky to be able to have the money and the donations from church and community members," Bemis said. "We're extremely grateful for what we received."

Jamie Browder can be reached at 352-1234 ext. 1427 or