CONGERS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A food pantry in Rockland County is marking a quarter of a century in operation and has teamed up with other food suppliers to address a growing problem.

“Most pantries are reporting at least a 50 percent increase in the number of people that they’re serving,” Robert Maher, Executive Director and CEO of TOUCH, told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams.

TOUCH, which stands for Together Our Unity Can Heal, is celebrating 25 years of service.

“It was primarily in the height of the HIV epidemic. It started out of the Grace Episcopal Church in Nyack,” said Maher.

With HIV patients living longer thanks to improved medications, TOUCH now also provides nutritious food to patients with chronic diseases.

“So a person is living with heart disease, diabetes, cancer. We know that good, healthy food is expensive,” said Maher.

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Even with the economy on the rebound, Maher said not everyone has recovered from the recession.

“I’ve had people who live in very expensive neighborhoods but because of a job loss, because of other conditions that have taken place within their life, because of medical bills, you have one major illness in your household, it can cause you to go bankrupt,” said Maher. “Most of the people we serve are working. Most of the people we serve are the working poor. You need a roof over your head, so you may be paying that high mortgage on your house. But you are still coming into a food pantry to get food.”

Stories from Main Street - Photo: Evan Bindelglass / WCBS 880

Stories from Main Street – Photo: Evan Bindelglass / WCBS 880

The more than 50 food pantries in Rockland County are joining forces to meet the need.

“I was able to arrange through the Northeast Regional Food Bank and the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley where we’re able to have about 40,000 pounds in Rockland and another 10,000 pounds in Orange County delivered every month to be distributed to all the different food pantries,” said Maher. “Even with the additional food that we’re able to distribute to them, which is that 50,000 pounds between Rockland and Orange County, it’s not enough.”

There is a constant struggle for funds with budget cuts expected in Washington. Rockland’s food pantries can always use help, Adams reported.

“They know I have the food but I don’t have the volunteers to get the food out to the people who need it,” said Maher.

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