COVID-19 has placed a spotlight on the role that food pantries play in local communities, even in seemingly affluent enclaves of Westchester County.
At the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry, demand skyrocketed shortly after the pandemic-related shutdown in March 2020 as thousands of local residents lost jobs, businesses and income nearly overnight.
The need to help families put food on the table has waned some, the number of families who still require assistance hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, said Laura Desmarais, a member of the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry board.
Since the start of the pandemic, the pantry has distributed roughly 700,000 pounds of food, she said. Typically, the Mount Kisco pantry had served about 300 families a week. When the pandemic struck, it exploded to about 500 families, and that number has more recently hovered around 440.
“The Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry, like our sister pantries locally and across the nation, was put under an extremely challenging situation, and taking into account the 18-plus months of living under COVID, our numbers have leapt 50 percent,” Desmarais said. “And our at-home delivery program has quadrupled in size.”
As a way to gather more funds as well as highlight awareness about Hunger Action Month in September, the pantry has scheduled a fundraiser for Thursday, Sept. 30 at the Bedford Playhouse. It is an evening with mentalist Oz Pearlman. Pearlman is one of the most sought-after mentalists in the world. While also billed as a magician, the former 2015 “America’s Got Talent” third-place finisher is best known for his ability to seemingly read minds.
Desmarais said some of the volunteers at the pantry had previously seen Pearlman perform and wondered whether there was a chance to book him for one of their fundraisers. The board reached out to the Bedford Playhouse for help and to suggest the idea. How he will be performing locally at the end of next month.
“We were mindful that the Playhouse, like any other venue in northern Westchester, also was affected by COVID-19, and it’s just such a lovely place right in our community,” she said. “We were speaking to somebody who was just there, who was saying how much people love mentalists and magicians. It got us thinking, I wonder if this might be a fun, family-friendly way to gather in northern Westchester in a particularly lovely and treasured venue. It just seems like a perfect match.”
It also was near the heart of the area that the pantry serves. While much of the pantry’s clientele live in Mount Kisco, Desmarais said it serves residents in about 20 communities, including Bedford, Armonk, Chappaqua and all the way down to Tarrytown, among other locations.
The fundraiser also appeared to be a good way to reach a wider audience about the crucial role the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry plays in the community.
“One of the things we’d like to do is maybe engage new folks, folks who maybe aren’t aware that the food pantry exists in Mount Kisco, that we’re doing the work that we’re doing,” Desmarais said.
The pandemic forced the pantry to change the way it operated, she said. It ramped up its home delivery service, particularly to seniors who were afraid to go out, and launched a drive-through with pre-packaged selections in the parking lot of its home at the United Methodist Church on East Main Street in the village.
Desmarais said that in addition to fundraisers and donors making cash contributions throughout the year, the pantry receives thousands of pounds of donated food from the public as well as from its 13 sponsor houses of worship in and around the village.
“I don’t think anybody ever expects to need a food pantry, which is why it’s so essential that we be here and that we work together as neighbors to support folks that are struggling with food insecurity,” Desmarais said.
Tickets for the Sept. 30 performance are $75. For the VIP cocktail hour, which also features a meet and greet with Pearlman, tickets are $125. The VIP hour begins at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. Complementary soda and popcorn will be served.
To purchase tickets, donate or to learn more about the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry, visit https://www.mountkiscofoodpantry.org/2021-hunger-awareness-events.