Hunger Is Not a Disease

Bonnie, Michelle, Nora and the Salvage Food Order at The Food Bank

In yesterday’s post, I started the monthly order.

In a good month, I ordered 16 cases each of a large variety of canned/boxed goods:  peanut butter, canned beans, canned refried beans, canned green beans, pasta, and oatmeal for example.

In a bad month, I would only be able to get my allotment of a couple of things:  tomato sauce, and dried plums, for example.

Bonnie, my primary contact for the Food Bank food orders, spent time telling me politely on Monday and Tuesday that most of what I wanted was already out of stock.  As the week progressed, the outlook usually improved.  By Friday, some of the stock had been replenished, new merchandise was on the shelves and the order was as good as it was going to get.  Michelle and Nora were also available when Bonnie’s line was busy.

These 3 women, Bonnie, Michelle, and Nora, spent their work days on the phone listening to desperate pantry coordinators, soup kitchen managers, shelter directors, ordering food.  While they were assisting an agency person on the phone there was always a list of people waiting for their turn to add their needs to the day’s list.

Generally, food items were depleted as fast as they came on the computer screen.  That’s why we called throughout the week.  Nothing was ever available for more than a day or 2.

“We just got in a shipment of USDA” was music to my ears.

Then would come the order for salvage bulk food categories.  These were banana boxes filled with 40 pounds of canned/boxed/bottled foods in specific categories such as fruits and vegetables, condiments, juices, pantry, soup, etc.  As a pantry, I was able to get this food at 16 cents per pound.  These boxes were wonderful.  They were wonderful to me, anyway.

In reality, they were something else altogether.

Salvage food is made up of the dented cans and crumpled boxes that are pushed aside at the grocery store. 

They are either collected at the store and brought over by the store itself to the Food Bank or a Food Bank truck drives around picking the food up and taking it to the Food Bank.  Food Bank volunteers clean and sort these items.  Salvage boxes offer variety to pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters.  This is where we get the occasional spice or herb, can of olive oil, box of cooking chocolate, jar of pickles.

Another favorite refrain I liked to hear from Bonnie or Michelle was “I can let you have 5 boxes of pantry today.”  Once I was able to order 24 boxes of salvage products.  I felt like I was being rewarded by the universe for something I must’ve done right.  I never quite figured out what it was that I did.  But this I know:  life was beautiful that week.

Thanks for reading this post.

There is absolutely no excuse for anyone in our country to go hungry.

Peace and Food for all.

Thurman Greco

Woodstock, NY

Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco

Woodstock, NY

Paul Shultis, Jr., and The Men of Woodstock and 4 Categories of food

In the last post Gene Huckle suggested that I go to a Woodstock Town Board meeting and try to get a truck.

So I did.  I went to a Town Board meeting and asked the Town to drive a truck over and pick up the food for the pantry.  What did I have to lose, right?  Well, that request went nowhere.  However, townspeople responded.  Calls came in from area residents.  And several volunteered monthly.

After that, I would put an item in the “Woodstock Times” newspaper on the week before the shipment arrival asking for volunteers.  People just showed up at the Hannaford’s.

Paul Shultis, Jr., became a “regular”.  He showed up every month driving a heavy  duty pickup with a trailer attached to the rear.  His rig could carry 4,000 pounds easy.  I loved, loved, loved the sight of that rig coming up to the pantry door filled with food.  Paul Shulti, Jr., took time off from work every month so he could caravan the food from the Hannaford’s to the pantry.

We would never in a million years have been able to get the food to the pantry without the generosity and dedication that Paul and the townspeople showed as they arrived at the Hannaford’s parking lot every month.

Each month I spent the week before the delivery day calling the Food Bank daily to place the food order.  I started the order on Monday and then added to it throughout the week.  On Monday I ordered food from four different categories:


Donated Foods

Salvage Food

Coop Food

I ordered everything I could get from the free United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food first.  The USDA food is part of the government’s farm subsidy program which includes, among other things, distributing excess food to the hungry.

The next post will focus on how the Food Bank works to get the food for us.

Thanks again for reading this blog/book.

Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco


I ordered

Bringing it Home to the Food Pantry – Part 1

“Their income is going down while food costs are not.”-William S. Simon

Beginning with this post, the next few posts will focus on how the food actually gets to the pantry from the Food Bank.  This is a huge part of the coordinator’s job.  Also, whenever anyone speaks to me about the food pantry, the question they always ask first is “Where does the food come from?  How do you get it to the pantry?”

What follows is the answer.

Once it became obvious that the 3-day rule directed by Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) was pretty much here to stay.  I began to try to get the food to the pantry.   After all, a 3-day supply of food for everyone in the household is a far cry from a can of tuna, a box of cereal, and a jar of peanut butter.

The bottom line here is that the whole pantry was turned upside down.  I placed an order every month from the Food Bank.  The Food Bank of Northeastern New York has a monthly delivery route throughout its territory and our shipment arrived in the parking lot behind the Hannaford’s in the Kingston Plaza Shopping Center on a prearranged Tuesday morning, usually on the third Tuesday,.  We had a standing 9:15 a.m. appointment.

I began asking individuals at the different congregations to help bring over the food from Kingston.  Every month was a new beginning because I was relying on whatever congregation had volunteers in the pantry each month.  I asked Carmen Adler, my  contact at Christ Lutheran Church, to help me one month.   One volunteer showed up to help.  Although he was  willing to help, he had a bad back and his pickup had faulty brakes.  I knew I had to do something.

Gene Huckle dropped by the pantry.  “What you need is a truck, Thurman.  Go to a Town Board meeting and ask the town to send a truck over to Kingston for the food.  Delivery day takes only a couple of hours of truck time each month.  Surely there’s an available truck somewhere.”

Go Gene!

In the next post, we’ll find out what happened with the truck and begin to understand how I ordered the food.

Thanks for following this blog/book.

There is absolutely no excuse for anyone in our great nation to go hungry,

Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco

Woodstock, NY

In the Food Pantry Blog – It’s All About Respect – Part 2

For the followers of the Buddhist, Hindus, and other Eastern religions, feeding the hungry is about selfless service.  The pantry had a few practicing Buddhists and one practicing Hindu.

Jo, a Buddhist from Palden Sakya, sometimes came on Wednesday evenings at 6:00 to help bag the bread which Prasida brought from the Bread Alone bakery in Boiceville.  Most of the time we had 2 or 3 volunteers to help but occasionally Jo would just bag the bread herself.  Stuart Kline sometimes came to help her.  When no one was available to help, she didn’t complain, criticize, or appear to judge.  Occasionally, if there was time after she packed the bread, she grabbed a broom and swept.

The Hindu, Prasida, was a strong woman of Polish descent.  She felt nothing weighed too much for her to carry and no task was too large or too small.  Prasida started the day on Wednesday at 6:00 a.m. by driving our truck, Miriam’s Well, to Latham for food.  At the Food Bank, she shopped and selected about 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of produce:  lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, baked goods, yogurt,  local cheese, fresh milk, mushrooms, carrots, anything organic she could find.  She loaded it onto the truck.  Then drove back to Woodstock where she unloaded the food off the truck and hauled it into the pantry.  After that, she went with Tall Thin John, Bad Back Bob, and Guy Oddo to Woodstock Commons to distribute food there to the residents.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, Prasida hustled back to the pantry and opened it up promptly at 3:00 as she signed in 200-300 people for the pantry.

Then, about 4:15, Prasida turned her desk job over to Guy and drove off down the road to Bread Alone in Vanessa with Ann King to get the bread.  She returned exactly at 6:00 with the Dodge Grand Caravan packed to the roof with freshly baked bread.

Then, Prasida unloaded the bread, and resumed her desk job until the pantry closed at 7:00, when she cleaned the floors.  WHEW

Having watched volunteers from the three religions in action, I truly believe the Jews,  Buddhists, and Hindus are more active  in their approach.  I never once heard one Jew, Buddhist, or Hindu try to turn people away or refer to the “unworthy hungry”.  “Unworthy hungry” is a term I first heard from a local Lutheran Minister.  I learned very quickly in the game that area Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics, and Dutch Reformed followers were familiar with the label.

So, I suppose that my feeling is that the Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus have owned the concept of “feeding the poor” since the beginning of time.  Christians picked up on the “feeding the poor” concept that Jesus taught.

With the next few posts, we’ll focus on the most asked about part of pantry management:  where the food comes from.

Thank you for reading these posts in this blog/book.  Pantries are hidden away places that more people need to know about.

Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco


In The Food Pantry Blog, It’s All About Respect

“In the new millennium, our world requires us more than ever to accept the oneness of humanity.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Different religions approach hunger and feeding the hungry in different ways.  Christians cannot have pantries without invoking the name of Jesus.

For the Jewish pantry worker, feeding the hungry is more about doing good works…doing good for its own sake.  Jews, of course, aren’t concerned with communion.  There’s no reward or paying back.

The Woodstock Jewish Congregation took its turn in the pantry twice yearly.  At first, when we were struggling with getting cars to caravan the monthly shipment over from Kingston, congregation members formed a caravan of cars and SUVs to bring the food over.  Congregation members volunteered to work in the pantry during the month.

One month, Richard Spool simply showed up with lumber and all the tools needed to build foundation platforms for our shelving in the storeroom.  He came into the storeroom, did all the work necessary to build absolutely perfect platforms and then left, personifying the feeling I got from the congregation members that their job at the pantry was to do what needed to be done and then, at the end of the month, melt away into the community and remain anonymous until their next turn.  There was no quibbling about the pantry serving the unworthy hungry.  None of the volunteers even seemed to be on the lookout for the unworthy hungry.

Richard must have liked being in the pantry because, several months later, he joined our board and became the treasurer.

Many of the volunteers left checks in my hand as they went out the door for the last time at the end of their “tour”.  They were gracious, cheerful, smart, capable, wonderful.  I could not have asked for a better group of volunteers.  As a group, I adore Jewish Women.  I’m convinced that, as a group, there’s nothing they cannot do.

Thank you for reading this post.

Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco

Food Pantry Blog: The Church in the Basement

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” – Matthew 25:35 


 Every week the pantry attracted several hundred people to the basement of the Woodstock Reformed Church.  People experienced community, gratitude, healing and shared food.  The isolation often felt by the hungry and homeless was diminished somewhat in the pantry.  In fact, the pantry changed all of us for the better.  For me, that was church.  It was the best attended service in that building each week.  In the basement, no less.

This basement pantry opened every Tuesday morning as we prepared and delivered the take outs, and Wednesday and Thursday afternoons when we served groceries to shoppers lined up in the hallway and outside the building.  We found ceremony hidden in the way we processed the shoppers through the rooms.

An Episcopalian Priest once told me that the only thing we really know about Jesus was that He fed the hungry.  He fed the hungry and then He said to those around him “Now you feed them.”

And, to my mind, that’s what communion is all about:  serving everyone who comes.

And, of course, that brings up a whole other issue.  As people go down the path to the pantry, they begin to lose things.  Life becomes less complicated.  One of the downsides of this newfound simplicity is that people become isolated and somewhat cutoff from their communities.  As the money goes, many activities go also, one of them being the weekly visit to a church or synagogue.  Church/synagogue becomes too expensive, not only for the tithing but also for the other things  needed:  clothes to wear to the services and other activities, money for the collection plate, things to donate to projects, fellowship activities.

Circumstances encourage congregations to discourage families and individual members at the moment they need it the most.  As people no longer fit in, their presence is discouraged.  It appears the congregations don’t want anyone to disrupt the ceremony and spiritual solitude in any way.

The closest many shoppers ever got to a church or synagogue service was the pantry line in the basement of the Woodstock Reformed Church.  There was a very definite hunger for spiritual connection.

A food pantry is another way of having a religious service.  The sharing of the food is the prayer.  The distribution of food in the pantry was a spiritual transaction.

Each week I opened the pantry when I unlocked the outside door with a key.  The building, housing a beautiful, empty sanctuary was kept locked.  The sanctuary was kept locked also.  As a pantry volunteer, we were allowed only in the part of the hallway where the pantry and storeroom were located.

In this part of the hallway, shoppers waited for over an hour sometimes in a cramped space to sign their name so they could enter into an even more crowded room to select a 3-day supply of food which they had to make last 7 days.

More than once I heard people ask if they could sit in the sanctuary for a moment.  “Sorry.  The sanctuary is locked.”  I always replied.

Sadly, more than once I heard people in the hallway discussing the beautiful sanctuary, the historical   church building.  When this happened I always heard the comment:  “I hear very few people come to this church anymore.”

Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco

Woodstock, NY



Homelessness and Mental Illness: A Comment on Nicholas Kristoff’s Blog

I sent the following letter to Mr. Nicholas Kristoff in response to his Feb. 9, 2014, story in the New York Times about mentally ill inmates in jails.

Dear Mr. Kristoff:

While you were describing the plight of these incarcerated people, I submit to you that the people illustrated in your story are the lucky ones.

As a coordinator of a food pantry in Ulster County, New York, I interact with mentally ill people every time the pantry is open.

It’s difficult for a mentally ill person to navigate in our culture.  Many of them end up homeless.  On January 31, 2014, we were out in 9 degree weather doing a Point in Time Census of homeless people for HUD.  We went under bridges, behind the mall in Kingston, to the cemetery, into abandoned buildings, etc.

Not everyone who is homeless is standing on the street with a sign and a cup.  Every time I walk down a street now anywhere, I see inconspicuous and unnoticed homeless people.  The sidewalks and streets of America have become one large ward for the mentally ill.

Homelessness accompanies a number of mental illnesses including schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.  Mentally ill persons have a tendency to become chronically homeless.  According to a HUD definition, a person who’s been homeless at least 4 times in the past 3 years or who has been homeless for more than 1 year, is considered homeless.  It’s believed by that there are over 250,000 seriously mentally ill homeless persons in our country.

The bottom line here is that many people are living on the streets coping not only with the problems of homelessness but also the mental illness they are afflicted with.  While a seriously mentally ill person is trying to survive on the streets dealing with things like dumpster diving for food, s/he is also dealing with being robbed, beaten, etc.  And, finally, s/he is not being treated for disease.

My conclusion:  better to be in jail.

Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco

Everytime I Walk Down a Street Now, Anywhere, I See, Inconspicuous and Unnoticed, Homeless People.

One young man was allowed to come into the pantry and take pretty much whatever he wanted when he shopped because he was so far in another world that we couldn’t communicate with him.  This was a very sad situation for me.  This young man, blonde,  appeared to be in his late 20’s and had a beautiful face and demeanor.  About the closest we could come to describing his hair was dreadlocks.

His mother also shopped at the pantry.  Sometimes, when he was off his meds, he was just so far gone that we couldn’t talk with him.  Somehow, she would get him back on the meds and he would be easier to communicate with.  We went through these cycles with him.  He would go along for several months on his medication and then quit taking it.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 25 per cent of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder.  These mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in our country according to the NIMH.

Research tells me that over 40% of the homeless population includes people with disabilities.  My observations of shoppers in the pantry seems to confirm this statistic which I got from

                 The  disabled homeless person appears to live below the poverty line.  

That’s because  those receiving SSI payments are really getting a very small amount of money each month.  There’s just not enough money for a person to live on if s/he includes a rent payment.  There’s also the employment factor for those with disabilities.  There are fewer jobs and the jobs pay less.  The old term “last hired, first fired” applies here.

The next post will include a copy of a letter to Nicholas Kristoff.

After that post, we’ll be returning to the pantry room with several posts about the pantry itself.

Thanks for reading this blogged book.

Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco



They Live Under Bridges, In Abandoned Buildings, In Cemeteries, Behind Shopping Centers And Malls

Homelessness accompanies a number of mental illnesses including schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.  Mentally ill persons have a tendency to become chronically homeless.  It’s believed by that there are over 250,000 seriously mentally ill persons in our country.

This statistic is very telling.  What it says:

there are more homeless people with untreated severe psychiatric illnesses than there are people receiving care for their diseases. 

To understand this, think of the streets as a large ward for the mentally ill.

The bottom line here is that many people are living on the streets coping not only with the problems of homelessness but also the mental illness they are afflicted with.

Releasing patients out of hospitals saves money for the mental health system but it shifts the costs over to jails and prisons which are much more expensive.

While a seriously mentally ill person is trying to survive on the streets dealing with things like dumpster diving for food, s/he is also dealing with being robbed, beaten, etc.  And, finally, s/he is not being treated for disease.

We had several of these very ill people who visited our pantry regularly.  as long as they were not physically aggressive, they were treated with dignity and shopped however they wanted.

Not All Homeless People Sit On The Sidewalk With Signs And a Cup – Not In Woodstock, Anyway

It’s estimated that 10% of households visiting pantries are homeless.  Most shelter clients have no other place to live.  Many of them have jobs but simply don’t make enough to pay rent.  It’s estimated that 24% of soup kitchen clients have no home.

Occasionally this gets a little complicated.  One shopper came into the pantry as a homeless person.  “I live in my car” he said.  (How?  Here it is February and the temperature goes below freezing every night).

“My wife is pregnant.  We’ve got her in a women’s shelter.  I’m working 2 jobs to get the money together for the baby.”

SHELTERED HOMELSSS  are those living in a supervised publicly  or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including shelters, transitional housing and hotels/motels paid for by charitable organizations or by Federal, State, or local Government programs.

UNSHELTERED HOMELESS are those individuals or families living with a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designated for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings including cars, parks, campgrounds, abandoned buildings, bridges, etc.

CHRONIC HOMELESS are those who have been homeless at least 4 times in the past three years.  Or, they have been homeless for more than a year.

Thanks for reading this blog/book.

In the next few posts we’ll examine the plight of the mentally ill homeless persons.

Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco