Two local organizations have worked hard this winter to make sure disadvantaged Islanders have access to free food.

This afternoon the Vineyard Committee on Hunger is hosting a giveaway at the First Baptist Church on Spring street in Vineyard Haven. They are distributing free food, some of it government surplus, to families that qualify. There are enough ingredients in a bag to give a family an Easter dinner with ham and more.

Down the street at the Christ United Methodist Church, the Island Food Pantry continues its winter program of providing food for the needy.

“We are two different organizations, with two different ways to meet the community’s need for food,” said Betty Burton, who is heading up the distribution of free government surplus food with the Vineyard Committee on Hunger.

Fortunately, the community benefits from the dual effort.

The committee’s distribution of free food begins this afternoon at the First Baptist Church at 2 p.m. “We have between 300 and 400 bags of groceries. A lot of volunteers will be on hand to make it run smoothly,” she said.

What makes today so special, she said, is the amount of community support that has come forward to make this day happen. A significant portion of the money was donated this past winter.

“It turns out that people gave money to support food for Thanksgiving and Christmas and there was enough left over for us to do something for Easter,” Ms. Burton said. “We call it Family-to-Family Program. [With] $25, we can put together enough food for one family.

“We had 120 families show up for the free Christmas basket of food. We gave people the ingredients for making their own Christmas dinner at home,” she said. There was money left over and that funds today’s program.

“Some families have barely gotten through the winter with the costs rising on all fronts and this meal is a chance to celebrate having made it through the worst of it,” Ms. Burton said. “Our surplus program operates October through April and is funded by the federal government and the committee on hunger,” she said.

Those wishing to pick up food must meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture income guideline and or already be receiving public assistance of some kind, such as food stamps, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, welfare, Medicaid, Head Start or fuel assistance.

“Mr. [Robert] Pachico, who runs Reliable Market, has gone out of his way to get good quality food less expensively for us,” Ms. Burton said. “He has gotten hams, apples and carrots, extra things have been thrown in,” she said.

Contributions to the program can be sent to the Vineyard Committee on Hunger, P.O. Box 1874, Vineyard Haven MA 02568.

“We will give out all the food we have,” Ms. Burton said. She said there’s no assurance they will have adequate funds to do this again next year at Easter.

Demand has been up this winter at the Island Food Pantry, which is headquartered at the Christ United Methodist Church (the stone church), on Church and William streets, a block from Main street.

Coordinator Arman Hanjian can’t say for sure how busy the pantry has been until it closes its doors next month, but the numbers are higher than a year ago. From Oct. 15 to Dec. 31, 2007, there were 658 visits by those in need; there were 593 in the same period for 2006.

When it comes to contributions of food and dollars to the organization, Mr. Hanjian said: “Things are going a little better than before. Our income is up a little. For seven out of the last nine years we have had to dip into our endowment. This winter it looks like we won’t have to borrow from our endowment. But we won’t know until April 14, when we close.”

Island schools were generous last month in contributing groceries to the Island Food Pantry. The pantry received groceries through the efforts of the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury elementary schools along with the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School.

Around Valentine’s Day, the Oak Bluffs children collected more than 114 bags of groceries. The Tisbury school collected 27 bags.

Students from the charter school set up a table at an Island grocery store and were able to collect 15 bags of groceries and $238 in cash.

Mr. Hanjian said the food pantry has benefitted from a loyal core of volunteers, which numbers over 50, more than last year.

For details about the food pantry, call 508-693-4764 or see online Financial donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 1874, Vineyard Haven MA 02568.