As area food pantry organizers look back on the past year and prepare to feed hungry families during the holidays, they are thankful. Thankful for the generous donations by area residents and businesses, and thankful that these donations have met our area's ever-growing hunger needs.

"We haven't had to turn anyone away," said Stanley Haupt, executive director of Shepherd House, which oversees nine food pantries in Carbon County. "We did have enough in donations and also what we got in terms of government grants. It helped us to continue to meet the demand for food. We try to use all of the resources that we have available to us."

The winter and holiday season tends to be a busy time for food pantries. Last month, Carbon County pantries served the equivalent of 30,384 meals to 3,376 hungry residents, including 1,071 children and 500 elderly.

During the winter, local families are sometimes forced to choose between paying heating bills or putting food on the table – and emergency food supplies such as those our local pantries provide can help to ease this burden. Eligible families receive a three-day supply of food for each household member.

Fortunately, with this increased demand comes a surge in giving. This year's donations have been no exception.

Haupt has noticed an increase in food donations during most major holidays, and any time local residents gather with family to celebrate and give thanks.

"They tend to think of the needs of people beyond themselves at that time," he said. "Part of it is because of the focus on thanksgiving, giving thanks and thinking of those in need. They also think of people in need during the holidays, because it's a time of giving."

Most Carbon County pantries are open once per month. The area's largest pantry is in Lehighton, based at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, and is open once per week to serve nearly 1,400 people in the Lehighton school district each month. Families may receive food assistance once per month.

Organizers noted that when you're feeding so many people each month, every donation counts, no matter the size.

The Lehighton pantry has been receiving requests for help from nearly a dozen new families each week, as more members of the community find themselves out of work or unable to make ends meet. Across Carbon County, 137 new families requested food items in November.

"Our donations do go up this time of year. It's like people get into the spirit of giving," said organizer Ronald Long. "But donations are always needed. Just because there isn't a special drive next month, remember us in January."

To support the efforts of local food pantries, you can drop off non-perishable food items such as cereal, pasta, peanut butter, canned goods, powdered milk, or juice at your community's pantry, or contact the pantry to organize a food drive at your work location or school.

"People can donate locally, maybe doing a food drive for the food pantry that serves their community," said Haupt. "They can also send a monetary donation to Shepherd House Inc. that will allow us to buy the items that are needed."

The mailing address for Shepherd House Inc. is 1067 Main Road, Lehighton, PA 18235.