Denise Shay – Milly’s Pantry, Penn Yan

Photo by Mark Stash
People in the Know

Denise Shay
Milly’s Pantry, Penn Yan


When and why did you become involved with Milly’s Pantry?

        By happenstance, I strolled into what is now Milly’s Market & Café toward the end of 2008 after doing some local shopping. Carolyn Schaeffer, co-founder and still longtime supporter, was sitting toward the back of the market and eagerly came across to the front of the store to greet me. She then proceeded to share Milly’s Pantry’s mission, vision and hopes for children in the county. That’s all it took. I was hooked from that point. I volunteered two to three times a week before and after my job as a children’s librarian in Dundee. I eventually moved into the role of executive director.

        Children have always been a big component of my life. It’s fated. And I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to be of greater support to children to help them succeed in life, than by being a part of Milly’s Pantry.


When was the organization started?

        Milly’s Pantry was established in 2008 as a NYS nonprofit 501(c)(3). It started as an inspirational movement based around the charitable doings of Mary Camilla “Milly” Bloomquist, a beloved legend in our community. This is not just an organization. This is a movement of awareness, compassion, giving and just doing for others.


What is the mission of Milly’s Pantry?

        Milly’s Pantry fosters equal opportunity for success, self-sufficiency and confidence to all Yates County children by providing nourishment and academic support. As Milly Bloomquist did, we believe in the inherent value and limitless potential of every child.


Can you describe some of the programs that benefit local children?

        The two key programs are the Weekend Backpack Program and School Supplies Program. All programs are available to any Yates County child ages 18 and under. There is no discrimination and no income requirements attached. If you need it, it’s there. 

        Graciously funded by the Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation and huge community supporters, the Weekend Backpack Program provides nearly 400 children with kid-friendly nutritional supplemental food every week, all year long. To date, more than 207,000 bags of supplemental food have been distributed, all by dedicated volunteers, families and even children. We stay in constant contact with school social workers to ensure that every child/family has an opportunity to receive this emergency food if and whenever needed.

        The School Supplies Program started in 2010 after collaboration with school social workers sharing how many students came to school for the new year, unprepared and without the necessary learning tools. With initial funding from the Nord Family Foundation, Spring Hill Fund and local community donations, the program got off the ground and distributed 1,000 backpacks filled with teacher-requested supplies for children. Distribution continues at Penn Yan and Dundee schools every August. Since its inception, nearly 10,000 school bags have been distributed. That’s hundreds of dollars saved for families and over $300,000 of community support provided to make this program possible. We now can rightfully say that we supply more than half of the school population of Yates County with all the school supplies needed to start each school year.


What products do you sell in the market? How does this benefit the charity?

        Milly’s Market & Café houses over 150 local vendors artisan foods and handcrafted gifts from the Finger Lakes Region. The special thing about Milly’s Market & Café is that your dollar does more when you shop here than many places around the area.

        Milly’s Market & Café is also known for its old-fashioned soda fountain bar that showcases the New York egg cream, Italian cream sodas, smoothies, milkshakes and espresso drinks. We have brought back, just recently, our light, from-scratch, lunch menu composed of soups, chilis, quiche, desserts and more. The revenue generated from market sales and building rentals go directly back into programming and operations for Milly’s Pantry.

        We not only generate revenue, but we establish a physical presence in the community, with the building itself acting as a community hub for business incubation, culinary opportunities and wellness classes. This physical presence also allows us to support local youth who are looking to complete community service, give back to their community or get experience in the work field. Milly’s Market & Café and the building it resides in are truly a unique experience for all who enter. 


What do you enjoy most about the Finger Lakes Region?

        I could say the wine, but what I enjoy most is the hiking. Hundreds of miles of paths that weave in and around on the Finger Lakes trails that give access to some of the most beautiful and lush scenery and waterfalls. Any opportunity to get my feet dirty and immerse myself in the sounds and sights of nature is a good place to be. I love calling this place home. 


Do you have any favorite local activities you enjoy?

               I love walking and biking the Outlet Trail that runs from Penn Yan to Dresden. I love boating on the lakes and kayaking on some of the local rivers. And of course, there’s always enjoying some of the local flavors at restaurants, cideries, breweries and wineries. I love the local music scene; without some of these places, like the Point of the Bluff, Hollerhorn Distillery and Steuben Brew, I don’t know how far I’d have to travel to hear some great local music. Music, food and nature … it’s where it’s at!

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