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The Hidden Hungry in Wealthy Suburb: The Middle Class Suffers, Too

November 22, 1995

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) _ Friends had to persuade Suzanne Gingold to go to a food pantry for the needy.

The 44-year-old computer operator, raised in well-to-do Mamaroneck where ``we always had a boat,″ was laid off in 1991 and hasn’t found another job.

``They said the food is collected for you, too,″ said Gingold, whose husband died in a 1989 car accident. ``I spend all my money paying rent. There’s nothing for food.″

To relief agencies in affluent Westchester County this Thanksgiving, Gingold’s predicament is familiar: white-collar workers fallen on hard times.

The 875,000 residents in the county just north of New York City have a median family income of $67,102. But behind the walls of some of the prettiest houses in the nicest neighborhoods, people are going hungry.

``It’s a common story,″ said Christina Rohatynskyj, executive director of Food Patch, which supplies food to more than 150 county agencies. ``The one thing they have left is their home, and they may not want to sell it or, in this market, can’t. The choice is to keep a roof over their heads or buy food.″

Food bank directors cite layoffs by major companies in Westchester, such as IBM, NYNEX and AT&T.

``They maintain a front, an image,″ said the Rev. William Shillady, who helps run the Larchmont Mamaroneck Food Pantry. ``They pay their mortgages and keep their cars so people don’t think they have a problem.″

When Barbara DiFiore collects food donations from schoolchildren in Westchester, many of them think it’s going to New York City ``or someplace poor″ for holiday dinners.

``They don’t know it’s going to their classmates,″ DiFiore said. Of the 36 meals she is distributing this Thanksgiving, 16 are going to families with two working parents.

One woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, works two part-time health care jobs to keep her home in Pleasantville because she wants her children to go to school there. Sometimes she goes to the food pantry.

``I feel guilty about taking the food,″ she said, ``but it’s for my kids.″

Food Patch and Hunger Front estimate that in the past 18 months, the more than 200 Westchester agencies that are supplied by the two food banks have received 250,000 to 300,000 visits from people wanting groceries.

According to the Second Harvest National Food Bank Network, a 1993 study showed 30 million Americans at risk of hunger. About 4.2 million of them were last employed in technical, management, professional, clerical or secretarial positions.

Some go to food pantries far from home so they won’t be recognized, said Mary Lou McNaney at New Rochelle HOPE. She arranges private trips to the pantry for those who might be too embarrassed to show up on the open days.

One man with five children used the pantry a few times, then gave McNaney $50 after he got a job. Others, Shillady said, do some volunteer work before taking a bag of groceries home, ``so they at least feel they’ve earned it.″

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