Skip to main content

From Park to Pantry: Nourishing Our Local Communities

Share this page:

March 4, 2024

Each year, a quiet yet profound movement takes place, one that connects communities through the simple act of giving. Spearheaded by dedicated individuals with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, this movement revolves around food donations and their transformative impact on local communities.

Headquartered in Alexandria Bay, MaryAnn LaClair-Nelson, an Administrative Assistant 1, helps to orchestrate an annual food drive that embodies the spirit of generosity and community support. The MLK Food Drive, which kicks off every December and extends until early February, is an overall effort to rally park employees to donate food items or monetary contributions in support of United Way of Northern New York.

MaryAnn noted that her office chooses UWNNY because we serve Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties where a majority of their parks are. “We do this to support our local communities,” MaryAnn said. “We know that there’s a lot of people that need a lot of things right now. And if this is a way we can give back, we’re all for that.” 

Over the years, the drive has witnessed a steady increase in contributions, with the collective goal of eventually reaching 1,000 pounds for the 1000 Islands region—an achievement that speaks volumes about the commitment to making a difference. This year, 435 pounds of food, along with some monetary donations, were brought to our office for us to distribute where there is a great need.

“This is one way that we can all easily do something small, but it makes such a big difference,” MaryAnn said.

Meanwhile, at the VEM Food Pantry in Carthage, our chosen recipients of the donations, Jennie Burke, Nancy Rome and the rest of the team are on the front lines of support for local families facing food insecurity. The pantry serves as a lifeline for many, especially amidst rising food costs and economic challenges, so it was a no-brainer for us to deliver to them to aid in their efforts. 

“The people really need it here because food supply is so expensive now when you go to the store,” Nancy said, highlighting the critical role the pantry plays in alleviating financial burdens. “Us being here helps them out a lot, it really does. You see the smiles on some of their faces, they can’t believe what they get.”

With numbers steadily rising as demand increases, the pantry remains steadfast in its mission to provide essential provisions to those in need. From canned goods to meat, bread, pastries, and frozen fruit, each donation contributes to nourishing families and fostering a sense of hope within the community.

The pantry even has free coats they offer to their clients along with hats people make and bring over to them, highlighting the steadfast community support for this local initiative. The pantry is open Mondays and Fridays from 10 am to 2 pm and Wednesdays from 3 to 7 pm, and is aiming to open another day as well. 

Jennie and Nancy noted that Wednesdays are generally their busy days, with one recent night seeing 31 different families visiting the pantry in those four hours, underscoring the importance to the community and great need in the area.

For Jennie, volunteering at the pantry is more than a duty; it’s a heartfelt tribute to her late husband, Mike, who dedicated himself to serving others and brought her on board with him about five years ago.

“It’s a good way to honor him while doing something important in the community,” she said. “The need is really great and we’re really making a difference.”

It was truly an honor to connect with both NYS Parks and the Carthage VEM Food Pantry to facilitate this wonderful exchange of donations and support, a prime example of the power of living and working united.