As Thanksgiving approaches, the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW) continues its work providing emergency food for those in need in Broome County.

A network of food pantries operating as a service from the Broome County Council of Churches, CHOW was created because of a lack of a coordinated effort to provide food to the community. Beginning with a network of 14 food pantries, CHOW now assists over 100 local food pantries and emergency meal sites free of charge. The program distributes around two million meals annually, recovering 1.7 million pounds of food and supporting up to 48 individuals through job training each year.

This November marks the fifth anniversary of a CHOW initiative — the Downtown Thanksgiving Food Challenge, a contest between different levels of elected government offices to raise food for CHOW. The event was first started by then-State Sen. Fred Akshar, who serves as the current Broome County sheriff.

Les Aylesworth, CHOW’s director, described the impact of initiatives like the Thanksgiving challenge.

“For starters, they generate food,” Aylesworth wrote in an email. “We have been distributing over 40 [percent] more food this year than last, so every extra bit helps. But it also shows that people can work together for a good cause, and what sometimes can be a divisive environment — [like] politics — events like this can bring them together.”

CHOW also distributes 30,000 meals every summer, and it supplies Binghamton University’s Food Pantry, which is located in College-in-the-Woods (CIW) and is also a member of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier. Describing itself as a “temporary, judgment-free place for students facing hard times,” the Food Pantry is equipped to provide students with a variety of food items and self-care products.

Matthew Pangburn, a first-year graduate student studying student affairs administration, emphasized the close relationship between the Food Pantry and CHOW.

“As a partner we are able to source food items at no cost to be delivered and distributed by us at the food pantry in CIW,” Pangburn wrote in an email. “We have a strong working relationship with the director of CHOW, Les Aylesworth, who also provides input through our Food Pantry Advisory Committee.”

Besides CHOW, the Broome County Council of Churches operates programs like the “Faith in Action Volunteers” — who empower and care for people above the age of 60 — and the Jail Ministry, a service that spiritually and emotionally supports incarcerated people. Also under the organization’s purview is the Hospital Ministry, which supports patients, families and staff at United Health Service’s Wilson Hospital and Binghamton General Hospital. The Council is comprised of a network of over 100 congregations operating its programs in an interfaith way.

Aylesworth expanded on his experience running the organization and its broader impact on the community.

“It’s a stressful honor,” Aylesworth wrote. “I’m grateful that I can be a part of the solution for people who face food insecurity. Too many folks and especially kids, don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from, so being able to fill a gap hopefully helps move the needle in their life. As I like to say, ‘we need less activism and more ‘actionism.’’ I want to be part of that action [that] feeds people and makes their life a little better.”