Hundreds of New Rochelle residents lined up Wednesday at the HOPE Community Services food pantry to receive bags packed with a wholesome Thanksgiving meal.
Despite decreased funding and difficult economic times, the organization functioned as an assembly line Tuesday filling 900 shopping bags crammed with yams, onions, potatoes, stuffing, gravy and turkeys donated by over 30 local religious and community organizations, schools, colleges and companies.
"Due to the economy, the numbers of people who make their way here have gone up significantly in the last two years," said Carole Troum, executive director of HOPE. "There's been a 44 percent increase in clients, and obviously our funding has not gone up 44 percent so the difficult point is keeping up with demand."
In earlier years, HOPE was able to provide for families throughout lower Westchester, but due to limited funding paired with inflated food costs, its reach is now focused on New Rochelle.
Jill HoTay, 46, of Pelham, has volunteered with HOPE for four years and noticed the heightened demand by those in need.
"When I first came, we were making 450 bags of groceries every two weeks," she said. "Last week we made 750 and needed to make 75 more."
The challenging job market is a major factor contributing to the increase.
"Before we were talking about people without jobs," said New Rochelle resident Joan Mooney, 82, who has volunteered with HOPE for 22 years. "Now we're dealing with people who had good jobs and lost them."
Economic hardship not only brought in those in need, but more volunteers, as well.
After losing their jobs, HoTay and Larchmont resident Susie Gedney, 56, began giving back to the community in their free time.
"I love every minute of it," Gedney said. "It's very gratifying. But the best part about working with HOPE is our volunteers."
Elena Leon, 40, moved to New Rochelle from Paraguay with her 5-year-old daughter two years ago seeking employment opportunities. Though times are difficult for her, she expressed her gratitude to the volunteers and organizers of the program.
"I'm really happy about everything they do here and I have a lot of love and appreciation for the workers," she said. "I have no family in this country, so these people have become my family."