Shelves at the Milton Food Shelf

The Milton Food Shelf prepares to feed those in need during the winter in this Independent file photo.

Hunger hits people of all ages and sizes.

In her role as executive director of the Milton Family Community Center, Vikki Patterson has witnessed that first hand.

“If often goes invisible,” she said. “You could have someone living right next door to you who is food insecure and not even know it.”

The center operates the Milton food shelf, where they see everyone from seniors to families with young children.

Last year, the shelf provided food to 512 individuals. Some of those only came for help only once, while others came regularly. That doesn’t count the 233 people who were helped by the Thanksgiving food drive.

Typically, the food shelf, which is open five days per week, aids 75 to 150 households in a month. Those who cannot get to the center during open hours either because of transportation struggles or work commitments can call the center and arrange to have someone else pick up food for them, explained Patterson.

Demand does pick up in the winter, when people have less food they’ve grown themselves and more expenses as utility and heating bills increase.

The food shelf was originally a cupboard filled with food to aid families coming to the center for other programs. It grew “more in response to the need than anything,” Patterson said.

The center also offers a child care program for children up to age 5, and an afterschool program.

They operate a parent-child center which does home visits and provide parenting workshops geared to families with young kids, said Patterson.

“We are here for families and the food shelf grew out of that,” Patterson said.

United Way of Northwestern Vermont provides $8,000 to help cover the costs of operating the food shelf. The “remainder comes straight from the community,” said Patterson.

That includes food drives conducted by businesses, athletic teams and community groups.

One of those businesses is the New England Federal Credit Union, which is currently conducting its annual Food from the Heart drive. Donations may be dropped off at the Hannaford in Milton through Nov. 1, as well as the food shelf itself. Just let the staff know a donation is part of the Food from the Heart drive and they’ll count it toward the drive.

“It’s a feel good for everybody,” said Patterson of food drives. “it’s an easy way to make a difference.”