Update (12:26 p.m. June 13) — This story was initially published June 12. The Food Bank of the Southern Tier has released additional details about the health concerns with the Enfield food pantry. They have been included in the latest version of the story.

ENFIELD, N.Y. — The Enfield Food Pantry has temporarily closed after not passing a recent inspection by the Food Bank of the Southern Tier.

Enfield’s food pantry has been continuously operating for nearly 40 years and is a member of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier. Typically, volunteers distribute food on Mondays and Sundays. It was closed June 5 over health concerns until improvements can be made.

The biggest health concern is a rodent infestation, Natasha Thompson, president and CEO of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier said Wednesday. In order to reopen, the pantry needs to establish a pest control program to prevent future infestations, including overall upgrades to the building such as “painting, sealing and cleaning the storage space, mowing tall grass and laying gravel around the perimeter of the building, etc.” Shelving units and racks to store food off the floor are also needed.

Thompson said they discussed several options for Enfield Food Distribution to address perishable products, including to:

  • “‘Right size’ their orders i.e. only order enough perishable products for a single distribution each week. This means that the pantry would not be able to ‘stock up’ on certain items as they become available on our menu.
  • Partner with the Food Bank to offer a Mobile Food Pantry distribution comprised of perishable items while the pantry focuses solely on non-perishable items. Since all of our trucks are refrigerated, this would ensure that perishable foods are stored safely.
  • Split perishable item orders into two deliveries per week (Monday & Thursday) instead of a single delivery (Monday). This would reduce the amount of perishable food items that need to be stored over the weekend.
  • Increase their cold storage capacity.”

Enfield Food Distribution has opted to raise funds for a walk-in freezer to improve food storage. A walk-in freezer will cost about $17,000.

Enfield Food Distribution, which is sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Enfield Center, is working to raise money to reopen as quickly as possible.

Jean Owens, pantry director, said a lot of residents in Enfield rely on the pantry to feed their families.

“It’s a critical situation,” Owens said.

Thompson clarified Wednesday that the Food Bank of the Southern Tier is not requiring new equipment to be purchased to reopen.

The pantry will be closed until it remedies food safety issues. Owens said a concern was that they were serving food directly from pallets, but said the food should be stored in a freezer during delivery.

In a statement, Natasha Thompson, president and CEO of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, said they regularly inspect partner agencies to make sure they are in compliance with their high food safety and sanitation standards.

“Unfortunately, Enfield Food Distribution did not pass its most recent inspection and has temporarily suspended distribution until food safety issues are remedied. Please be advised the Food Bank is working closely with Enfield Food Distribution to resolve this matter as quickly as possible,” Thompson said in a statement.

Related: Feeding Tompkins series looks at food insecurity in Tompkins County

In the meantime, anyone in need of food is advised to visit the Food Bank of the Southern Tier’s website to locate other nearby pantries or mobile food distribution sites. An additional mobile food pantry will be offered from noon to 1 p.m. July 9 at Enfield Town Hall, 168 Enfield Main Road.

Enfield Food Distribution has started a GoFundMe page to raise $17,000 to get the equipment, mainly a walk-in freezer, racks and storage. As of Tuesday afternoon, they had raised $680. (The GoFundMe page currently says $8,000 but Owens said they have since had to update it)

At the GoFundMe page, Enfield Food Distribution said in May they served an average of 46 elderly residents, 190 children and 320 adults per week. The large demand for food has made them reach a breaking point. About a year ago, they said they increased the times they are open to include Sunday afternoons and numbers increased significantly.

The pantry is in crisis, Enfield Food Distribution writes, “The families who depend on the food we provide are in crisis! Summer is approaching and soon the children will be home without the support of the school feeding programs.”

Owens said she has received a great response from the community so far, with many people willing to step up. With all the community support so far, Owens said she is “highly encouraged” they will get the pantry reopened. Anyone with questions or who wants to donate can visit the GoFundMe page or contact Owens at 607-273-5682 or jowens11@aol.com.

To locate a pantry in Tompkins County, visit www.foodbankst.org/foodpantriestompkins. The GoFundMe page is available here.

Featured image: Flickr photo.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.