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Mass. Food Pantries, Recipients Struggling

LOWELL (CBS) -- Even on a gray, grim day along Broadway in Lowell, there's much to be thankful in the 700 block at the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, which serves some of the neediest parts of the state in which Thanksgiving originated: The freezer is packed with cartons and cartons of turkeys after a shortage last year.

"Fortunately, we had an outpouring of generous donations last year and they're coming in again this year," says Executive Director Amy Pessia.

But the people who run the food bank say this holiday season and beyond there will be a broader, more critical need for other food items including non-perishables such as but soups and cereals and, of course, money to buy nutritional necessities. "I don't know how to explain how I feel when the holidays come around. This last year was just too much for me to handle," said Deb Smith of Lowell.

Her husband suffered permanent nerve damage working construction last fall, their son is autistic, and she says she can't work because she's taking care of them. "At one time, I used to donate to food pantries, believe it or not."

Now, Smith says, the tables have turned. Her husband's workmen's comp ran out last month. Now, she relies on the food bank's mobile pantry. "It's very embarrassing. It's a terrible feeling, especially for my husband 'cause he was a good provider."

Project Bread says 615,000 people in the state are struggling to put food on the table, an 11 percent increase over the past year. But the Merrimack Valley Food Bank finds it's worse in the communities it serves, including Lowell, Lawrence and Lynn: "An increase of about 40 percent from 2009 to 2010," says Pessia.

The Greater Boston Food Bank finds 66 percent of food pantries, 72 percent of soup kitchens and 71 percent of shelters in Eastern Massachusetts report problems that threaten their future, including funding.

Deb Smith says she feels guilty taking food from the pantry because she thinks there are other people who are worse-off. She says she hopes someday she'll be able to contribute again.

Pessia says the Merrimack Valley Food Bank still welcomes Thanksgiving donations but she hopes people will contribute after the holidays as well, when heating costs rise, making it harder for many people to afford food.

The Merrimack Valley Food Bank can be reached at 978-454-7272 or at

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