Hunger Is Not a Disease

The Dump…and Much More at the Good Neighbor Food Pantry in Woodstock

“I dread talking about politics because I don’t like politics. Never have. Never will. Don’t understand it. Don’t trust it. Politics scares me.” – Kathy Bates
Bob Otto, a volunteer, visited every car dealer in Kingston and Saugerties asking for a van or truck for our pantry. Sawyer Motors was the only dealer who even gave Bob any attention. Bob got a few minutes with Robert Siracusano and was able to appeal to his sense of community.
“I don’t have anything now, but we do get lease vehicles in. When the right vehicle comes in, I’ll call you.”
And, he was good for his word. In about three months Sawyer Motors called with a low mileage Dodge Grand Caravan in excellent condition. The price was right and Barry drove over, paid for the car with money I had in savings and picked it up. What a wonde3rful thing Bob Otto and Sawyer Motors did for us! We now had a vehicle large enough and strong enough to do all the jobs needed to be done. The car, which we named Vanessa, was on the road eight days a week from the moment she left the lot.
Vanessa could be seen at the dump at least four days a week. On Tuesdays, after we stocked the shelves and made the takeout runs, Vanessa hauled enough cardboard to fill up the cardboard receiving tub at the dump. And, Vanessa returned on Thursday morning with cardboard collected during the pantry shift on Wednesday afternoon. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, Vanessa carried yet another totally full load of cardboard on Friday morning before we drove to Latham to pick up 1,000 to 1,200 pounds of canned/boxed food.
Cardboard disposal was a huge part of our pantry routine. For starters, we had to dispose of the cardboard because if we didn’t, we would have been very quickly overrun with the boxes (within two days, at the latest.)
Secondly, cardboard was important to the building committee. Members believed the cardboard harbored “vermin” (to use the committee term.) This could not have been further from the truth. In reality, we had no insects or rodents to speak of. The reason behind this is our boxes were constantly being moved around both at the Food Bank and then, finally, at our pantry. When boxes are “on the move”, any and all self-respecting insects and mice “skedaddle”, to use a technical term used at the Food Bank.
When we first moved into the storeroom, we found a mouse. Once we caught that one mouse, we never saw another one. We set out many mouse traps, ant and roach motels, all around the storeroom in case something came around but we never really found anything.
The building committee objected to cardboard in the hallways, in the pantry, outside the building where it could be seen, and in the parking lot. We were never able to totally overcome this objection because there were no places to keep the broken down cardboard boxes. We did our best to make sure that, at the end of each shift, all the cardboard was removed.
In addition to our regular duties in the pantry, Robert Allen, Richard Allen, Tony Cannistra, Jim Hansen, Bob Oddo, Barry Greco, the Anderson team, and I were an informal committee devoted to breaking down and disposing of the cardboard.
As the shopper population increased on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, flying boxes were seen in the hallway the entire shift.
And, as if all of the above wasn’t enough, Vanessa always worked a full day on Friday. Every Friday, Barry and I drove Vanessa to Latham to pick up one thousand to fifteen hundred pounds of canned or boxed USDA foods. We had a standing appointment in the warehouse at 11:30 a.m.
I placed the order every Wednesday when I called Bonnie or Michele and asked for whatever USDA foods that had turned up on Monday and Tuesday. Our pantry was allowed sixteen cases of each different USDA item each month. In my book, USDA was worth its weight in gold bars. The food was free and, when it was in stock, there was a good variety: canned refried beans, canned vegetarian beans, canned green beans, peanut butter, juice, frozen chicken, frozen blueberries, dates, prunes, tomato sauce.
Each Friday morning at 11:30, Barry and I loaded the food into Vanessa and returned to Woodstock. At 4:00, we were allowed in the building to offload the food in the pantry. The building committee gave us a thirty-minute slot between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. on Friday to offload. We weren’t allowed to put the food on the shelves at that time but we could at least get it out of the car. Nor were we allowed in any other part of the building beyond the pantry room.
And, I never felt we were trusted in this effort. Many was the time people watched us as we unloaded the food.
The frozen food we brought back went in the freezer in the barn.
When we had a food drive at the Sunflower on a Saturday, we carried the food around in Vanessa until the following Tuesday morning at 9:00 because we weren’t in the building on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.
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Peace and food for all.
Thurman Greco

In the Parking Lot of the Woodstock Reformed Church

“It’s one thing to wish for things to be different in your life, and it’s something else to have the capacity to create the life you want.” – Sister Mohini
Every week more people came to the pantry for food than the week before. This phenomenon had been going on for months…years; ever since the fall of the economy in 2008. Some weeks we’d get ten new families.
And, of course, they all became regular shoppers.
“We’ve got to do something>” I said to Guy Oddo one afternoon.
“Yup” he aid “the parking lot’s dangerous. There’s going to be a wreck out there one of these days.”
Actually, there was. Someone ran into my car about two weeks ago. “Do you have any suggestions?”
“Well, how about we put a volunteer in the parking lot to direct traffic.?”
“What if we limit the shopping time in the pantry?”
“Can we make some of these people park in the town lot down the street?”
So, we did all three things. Guy stood in the parking lot with maps to other parking lots in town. He distributed the maps while directing traffic. And, we further limited the shopping time in the pantry.
They kept coming, the new families. They needed the food.
not rain,
not sleet,
not snow,
not 100-degree afternoons,
not a totally packed parking lot,
not insults from pantry deniers stopped them.
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Peace and food for all.
Thurman Greco

1 Corinthians – A Puzzle I’m Trying to Solve

“I sometimes listen to politicians talk about the poor people, welfare and food stamps and notice no one ever talks about the enormous fear that comes with poverty and with the constant state of high anxiety. You feel as though there is a giant boulder gradually sliding down a mountainside towards you. Any disruption, any time day or night it could hurtle down and crush you.” – Sheila Moore
The first time I met the Pastor of Woodstock’s Christ Lutheran Church, she used a phrase I had never heard before: feeding the “unworthy hungry” as she lobbied against the new pantry guidelines set down by the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program. I was mystified. What did this term mean? Where did it originate? I heard it again, off and on, at pantry meetings and occasionally in the hallway.
Because this term came from a Lutheran Minister, I did some research. I went to my computer and googled “unworthy hungry”. Up came a list of websites, all of which referred to the text in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians, a book in the New Testament of the Bible, was written by Paul of Tarsus to followers in Corinth according to “All believers are indispensable to the church.” The “unworthy hungry” I heard the Pastor refer to didn’t seem to match what I read at which spoke a lot about love: “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Do everything in love.” Mark Mattison in, concluded “The next time your church celebrates communion, take a look around the room and consider the brothers and sisters with whom you are communing…Drink deeply of the cup of forgiveness and thank God that Christ is coming soon to usher us in to the banquet hall where we shall celebrate with the saints in the body.”
Everything here I read was confusing because I didn’t read “unworthy hungry” in any of the quotes. What was the connection?
If what I read in 1 Corinthians was correct, the people who came to the pantry are not the “unworthy hungry”. They are, instead, coming to receive communion in the most basic sense. Instead of a sip of wine and a bit of communion wafer, they receive the food they need to sustain themselves in the coming week.
1 Corinthians seems, to me, to be more about how to conduct the sacrament not how to feed the poor.
This confirms my theory that pantries are, indeed, religious services, churches if you will. The pantry service offers neither theology nor creed nor rituals. The pantry service works through love. Feeding the hungry is a sacrament.
The “unworthy hungry” term relates to the way people abused the Lord’s Supper. I never saw anybody in the line at the Good Neighbor Food Pantry abusing anything except maybe their feet as they stood for extended periods of time. These people were, for the most part, respectful, grateful, hopeful. They were trying to make their way through life with insufficient money, food, healthcare, transportation, education, spiritual support.
“Thurman, how can you serve food to her? Her son works and she has a car. She shouldn’t get food.”
“Thurman, that woman lives in Kingston. You gave food to a family from Shandaken last week. Our pantry should be for Woodstockers only.”
“Thurman, that person’s car is too nice. How can you give food to a person with a car like that?”
“Thurman, the cardboard boxes from the Food Bank create an eyesore when the church people are entering and leaving the building on pantry day. Please keep the cardboard out of sight.”
“Thurman, you are serving entirely too much food to these people. You can’t do this.”
“Thurman, why are you serving fresh fruits and vegetables in the pantry? You shouldn’t do this.”
“Thurman, you’ve begun to open the pantry in the afternoons. Our pantry should not be open in the afternoons.”
“Thurman, you’re serving entirely too many people.”
“Thurman, you’re serving all the wrong people here.”
“Thurman, you’re filling this building with vagrants and riffraff. You need to keep the riffraff out.”
“Thurman, you don’t serve this kind of food to these people. They’re going out of here with $70-80 worth of fresh produce. This is wrong. I’m going to tell Pastor Sonja, Ed Jabbs, and Pastor Bode about this. I’m very close to Pastor Sonja and she’s not going to be happy. You’re feeding the unworthy hungry.”
“Thurman, why is the pantry open two days each week?”
“Thurman, you shouldn’t feed this food to these people. If they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.
The term “unworthy hungry” was a popular phrase used as the amount and quality of food was discussed. The HPNAP guideline that the pantry serve a three-day-supply of food to include fresh produce, whole grain breads, and 1% milk was extremely unpopular to some people.
The subtext of this dialogue was that if the pantry didn’t give them the right kind of food or enough food, they would leave town…go to Kingston.
In order to understand the situation, a person needs to look at the whole picture.
Pantries are our tax dollars at work.
A popular refrain was that no one who lived outside of Woodstock should receive food from the pantry. Kingston had many pantries, soup kitchens, shelters. Saugerties had four pantries. Woodstock had two pantries. Bearsville had a pantry, Phoenicia had a pantry. Olivebridge had a pantry. Then there was a long dry spell until Margaretville. There were many poor and hungry people living along the Route 28 corridor from Woodstock to Margaretville. Where were these people to go for food?
They hitch hiked in. They rode the bus. They piled in cars. They came to the pantry in any and all kinds of weather.
They were hungry.
The struggle to get food to where it’s needed is never ending. The needs of the hungry were great. All we did, as a pantry, was open the door and let the hundreds of hungry people walk in…in groups of five.
But, that was only part of the story. At the lowest rung of the poverty ladder, it’s not what pantry the household is nearest. It’s where they can get to. If a person lives in Saugerties, for example, and the nearest pantry is open on Monday, it will be of no use to the person who can’t get to the pantry on Monday. However, if the pantry in Woodstock is open on Wednesday and the person can get a ride on Wednesday to the pantry, then that’s the pantry which will be used.
Pantry deniers concerned with feeding the “unworthy hungry” need to consider the source of both the food and the money. The Good Neighbor Food Pantry, a tax exempt 501(c)3 corporation, received funding from many sources outside Woodstock. The majority of the food came from Food Banks located in Latham and Cornwall.
Sponsors are very important to a pantry. Good Neighbor Food Pantry sponsors came from many locations. The Boy Scout Food Drive originated in Kingston at the Boy Scout Headquarters. The food itself came each year from a troop in Glenford. The annual United States Postal Service Food Drive included food from all over Ulster County. Shoprite in Kingston donated money annually. Wakefern Corporation donated funds annually to our pantry from their office in New Jersey. Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in Kingston and Catskill donated money. Hannaford’s in Kingston donated food boxes in December. One Saugerties family donated over $3000 annually. Markertek in Saugerties donated funds to the pantry. The ancient Order of Hibernians in Kingston donated money.
The list of individual donors located outside Woodstock is pages long. People throughout the country feel a connection to Woodstock and want to share.
Ethically, in order for the Good Neighbor Food Pantry to refuse to serve households outside of Woodstock, the pantry would also have to refuse donations from businesses, foundations, and individuals outside Woodstock. The pantry would have to stop getting food from the Food Banks.
Funding the pantry received from out-of-the-area donors far outweighed the shoppers who lived beyond the 12498 zip code.
I felt compelled to refer to Jesus. When Jesus fed people, he never asked who they were, where they lived, why they needed food. He simply fed the people. He made no mention of requiring people to show proper ID or live in a particular zip code. Additionally, He never preoccupied Himself with their character. He cared not whether they were ill, wealthy, thieves, criminals, etc. If they were hungry, they were fed.
In any event, both the argument I heard about feeding the “unworthy hungry” and my rebuttal never really amounted to more than so much hot air and anger being spread around the room.
The State of New York, through the management policies and guidelines of the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) determines who gets fed and who doesn’t get fed in a pantry. They are crystal clear. In 2012, a directive entitled “Open to the Public” was handed down to agencies. The “Open to the Public” feeding program policy includes all populations without regard to gender, race, color, ethnicity, age, nationality, citizenship, marital status, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, income, disability, or health status. We do not exclude any population group from receiving services upon first request or repeat visits to our pantry.
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Peace and food for all.
Thurman Greco

Food Bank of the Hudson Valley Throws a Party

Every year, in May, the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, throws a party. The employees who spend every working moment getting food together to feed the hungry, make time in their schedules to put together a wonderful dinner honoring the Food Bank and agency volunteers. On this special evening, the cavernous storeroom is transformed into a large dining hall complete with enough tables and chairs (donated by the Storm King Engine Company #2) to seat at least 235 people.
While the transformation is performed by the employees at the Food Bank, most everything else is a community effort.
The delicious menu at this year’s event was a combined effort of C & S Wholesale, who gave the food and Nick Zitera of Cosimos’s Restaurant. This collaboration, overseen by Toni Gutter and Jessica Fetonti offered a special selection for the guests: lemon chicken, roast pork, toss salad with a specially prepared sesame seed dressing, green beans in an oriental sauce, tortellini Alfredo.
Dessert was a delicious cake prepared by Hannaford’s Bakery and served with freshly brewed coffee.
Other beverages served during the evening were donated by Pepsi Cola.
Fresh flowers were on every table.
An agency is honored every year. The 2014 honoree is Helping Hands Food Pantry of Dover Plains. A table full of volunteers from Helping Hands came to the dinner. They brought their longest standing volunteer who has been serving at Helping Hands since it opened over 30 years ago.
Roberta Sherman and Tom Coons, two Food Bank volunteers, were honored this year.
So what is the moral of this story? The moral is this: even though employees of the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley are focused on getting food to the hungry, they have space in their schedules and their hearts to honor people who themselves are so immersed in feeding the hungry that they don’t even realize they need this recognition.
When people are totally focused on give, give, give, they forget they might need to have their own spiritual tanks refilled occasionally. So, then, along comes the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley offering a banquet meal to fill not only the body but the soul.
To the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, I say “Thank you.”
To the rest of us I ask “How can we help the people of the Food Bank refill their spiritual tanks?”
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Peace and food for all.
Thurman Greco

Food Banks Are All About Distributing Food To The Hungry.

When I visit the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley or the Food Bank of Northeastern New York, the thing that comes to mind is that everyone is focused on feeding the people.
Food Banks are all about getting food. The warehouse has bays for large 18-wheelers to bring in loads of food for distribution.
The produce area is always packed with both food and agency representatives shopping for food.
Food. Food. Food. That’s all that’s going on.
In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, in the midst of all the people trying to get as much food loaded into their rigs as quickly as possible, there are four women at the Food Bank of Northeastern New York who are on the front line focused on keeping the food flowing to the hungry.
Kathy, Bonnie, Michele, and Nora are on the job every single day.
They are the hub of the operation.
Everyone who calls in or walks into the Food Bank of Northeastern New York meets Kathy first. She’s got an infectious smile, a winning way. When I talk to Kathy, I know that all is right with the world.
The phones are ringing off the walls all day long everyday. But, when Kathy answers my call, I know that she’s got all day and a special message for me and me alone.
When I give a food order to Bonnie, Nora, or Michele, I know they’ve got my pantry’s best interest at heart.
Frankly, this attitude, this treatment, this mannerly approach is special. It’s also quite rare. When was the last time you spoke on the phone to someone who cared about you and your needs? It’s been years for me.
The Reservoir Food Pantry is new. The Reservoir Food Pantry is still small. The budget of the Reservoir Food Pantry is even smaller. So, it’s imperative that every order reflects the very best deals.
When I call the Food Bank, I’m looking for the new arrivals on the USDA front. This food is free and because of the pantry’s size and newness, we’re only allowed two cases of whatever USDA comes in. Other than that, I’m after the best deals to be found on the Donation List and the Surplus List. So, I call two or three days each week to get whatever is available.
Then, on the following Monday morning, Prasida and Roseann drive to Latham and Cornwall and pick up as much produce as they can load in their vehicles.
Prasida also gets the order from the conveyor belt (We have a standing 11:00 a.m. appointment for boxed foods).
“Hi Chris. What have we got today?…WOW! Look at those oranges! And those organic apples! What a prize! Onions. Carrots. Salads. Chris, thanks so much for all you do.”
It’s crowded out in the produce room also. Again, everyone who comes in contact with us is there to help us, to serve our needs, support our efforts to feed the hungry.
Inside the building offices there is a whole army of people working hard to see that food gets to the Food Bank so it can be distributed to us. It’s very comforting to know that, no matter how difficult our tasks are in our pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, we have strong support for the jobs we do.
With support like that, we can’t lose.
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A Summer Storm in New York State: Hurricane Irene and Super Storm Sandy

If we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger.” – Buzz Aldrin
With hurricane season upon us again, I’m reminded that weather was always an important consideration for both pantry shoppers and volunteers in the Good Neighbor Food Pantry in Woodstock. Winters were important because of the cold, cold, cold waits in front of the building before the door opened.
But, summers were another matter altogether. Storms confronted us several times every summer. They ranged from gentle showers lasting a few minutes to hurricanes of historic proportions.
Always a concern in these summer events was the stream running along the side of the church building. Actually, the building was constructed right into the stream and the parking lot was on the other side of the stream. Drivers crossed over a tiny bridge to park.
Often, when rain came, the little stream rose. On several occasions I feared for the pantry. I didn’t fear for the building. It was built many years ago and had weathered many storms and high water events. I feared water would come into the pantry room which was on the lowest floor and right on ground level.
Luckily, this never happened. At one point, during a storm, we were distributing food to the shoppers and keeping an eye on the water level at the same time. The water came up to within two inches of coming into the building.
“Please shop quickly folks. That stream is rising very fast. I want us all to get our food before I have to close the pantry for our safety.”
I repeated these three sentences over and over and over. (As if the people could have shopped any faster. They were already being pushed to their limits regularly in an effort to get as many people through the pantry as we could during shopping hours.)
Then, in August, 2011, Hurricane Irene blew through. The seventh costliest hurricane in U.S. History, Irene landed at Coney Island on August 28th as a category 1 storm and then moved through New York State on its way over New England.
Throughout the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River Valley, Irene caused floods described as five-hundred-year-floods by The Weather Channel.
On the next pantry day following Irene’s visit, people flocked in. They had no power in their homes, apartments, rooms. Some had lost everything. Others were inconvenienced by what was to be a week or more without power.
But, all were grateful for the food they received at the pantry.
Some in the line were visibly upset. It was painfully obvious that some of the people were never going to spiritually, emotionally, and financially recover from Irene. One couple, renting a place near Boiceville, lost everything, including their car. Someone they knew had a room in a shed further up the road on a hill. They moved in. They’re still there. They still don’t have a car. They walk to the Reservoir Food Pantry now and pick up what food they can carry to their home each week.
Within a short time, the Food Bank was making both Clorox and water in gallon jugs available.
The lesson I learned from Irene was to be prepared in the summer. Now, I order cleaning supplies throughout the year whenever they become available at the Food Bank. We try to keep bars of soap and toothbrushes on hand in the Items of Dignity section of the pantry.
Water is available in the pantry throughout the year. At a minimum, shoppers can take a bottle when they shop. In time of crisis they can, of course, take much more depending on what we have stacked in the back.
Having bottled water in the storeroom caused both problems and criticism when people who didn’t understand our ordering system saw case after case after case of water just sitting in a corner. This was particularly troubling to those who saw us allowing people to take only one bottle weekly throughout the year when we had so much in the storeroom.
When criticized, I simply refused to move off the dime. Two things with their own clocks: Food Banks and Hurricanes. I learned to work with both schedules.
When Superstorm Sandy hit New York City on October 29, 2012, the volunteers at the Good Neighbor Food Pantry were more prepared than when Irene visited. And, it was a good thing. Sandy was much larger and deadlier, affecting states from Florida to Maine. Sandy was both the second costliest hurricane in U.S. History and the deadliest.
At the pantry, we really didn’t skip a beat. As the shoppers filed in for food we asked each one about how they’d been affected by Sandy.
Probably half of the people coming through our doors in November were affected by Superstorm Sandy. As with Irene, some Sandy victims were unaware that food pantries even existed the week before. They just woke up one morning to discover life as they knew it to be totally different. To make matters worse, they soon realized they were in a new sociological category: situational poor. Not only were they homeless and scrounging for food, they were soon painfully aware they needed huge amounts of money to even begin the climb back to what they thought was normal.
“We’ve lost everything, our home, our car…everything.”
“We’re doing better than some Thurman. Part of our house is still standing. Our car is not gone.”
“Everything is gone, our home, our car, my job.”
On and on the stories went. Standing in the hall waiting to get food was calming for some. Others were not so calmed during their first visits. They looked around in the line and saw some of the people for what they were: alcoholics, artists, child abusers, children, crazies, the disabled, druggies, drunks, the elderly, hardworking people juggling two and three jobs, homeless, mentally ill, messed-up people, musicians, schizophrenics, terminally ill, thieves, Woodstock’s colorful characters, volunteers.
The Food Bank of the Hudson Valley shipped truckloads of food to our community in the weeks after Superstorm Sandy. In a short time, we served lines of people from the parking lot at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church off route 375 in West Hurley. In all, ten truckloads of food were distributed. This was in addition to food we were distributing to people on regular pantry days.
For months after Sandy’s visit, we ruminated over how to improve our disaster operations. Rich Allen devised a system he called “Buddy Up.” He asked each volunteer to contact another pantry and be prepared to communicate with these people in future storm events.
I went to the Town of Woodstock Board meetings several times and tried to involve the town in our efforts. I was never able to engage the Town Board in an effort to feed people in the event of a disaster.
The Good Neighbor Food pantry had the backing of the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley. We had volunteers trained to deliver food during emergencies. What we lacked were community officials who believed Woodstock would ever get hit. And, also, we had demonstrated that we could/would deliver large shipments of food to hungry people without involving the community in any way. Why should they bother to participate? A free ride already existed.
What we did not have and what we needed was for the Town of Woodstock to allow us to deliver and distribute large amounts of food to hungry people from a community property location if a damaging disaster struck our area.
When I requested this, I was met with glazed eyes, stares, and silence. And, really, why should they cooperate? The Catholic Church in West Hurley hosted these emergency mass food distributions now. Why change things? They simply didn’t to get involved if they could shove the job off on someone else.
My argument was that the community had a responsibility to offer a location. In the event of a serious future disaster, the parking lot of St. John’s Church was not big enough. I argued that preparation for a disaster would not hurt.
This story does not have a positive resolution. To my knowledge, no one stepped forward with a provision for emergency food distribution in Woodstock in the event of a catastrophic event.
The Reservoir Food Pantry and its location in Boiceville is now the focus of any disaster prevention efforts. Fortunately or unfortunately, Boiceville residents are familiar with superstorm aftermath.
Restoring normalcy to Upstate New Yorkers in the aftermath of both Irene and Sandy has been lacking. Many destroyed homes and businesses in our area are still not restored. A motel next to our Reservoir Food Pantry distribution point on Route 28 in Boiceville has been abandoned. Shoppers are coming for food who will probably never experience life as they knew it before Irene and Sandy.
Sadly, mold and rot advance without any help and buildings and vehicles do not repair themselves. We need to figure out how to facilitate rebuilding homes and businesses while preparing for the next disaster.
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Thurman Greco

The Monthly Food Delivery at the Good Neighbor Food Pantry


reformed church“It is not necessary to advertise food to hungry people, fuel to cold people, or houses to the homeless.” – John Kenneth Galbraith
Once we began offering a three-day supply of food to every person in every household represented in the shopping line, the supply chain began to organize itself.
Usually, on the third Tuesday of every month, our shipment arrived at the Hannaford’s parking lot in the Kingston Plaza Shopping Center. We had a standing 9:15 a.m. offloading appointment.
On this day, I felt free. The best day of the month was here – Delivery Day! I spent all the week before preparing for this morning. I called the Food Bank every day last week ordering thousands of pounds of food.
Bobbie Blitzer called the delivery caravan members beginning the week before and reminded them to meet in the parking lot outside Hannaford’s.
The caravan team gathered in the parking lot of the shipment delivery day and waited for the truck from the Food Bank of Northeastern New York to offload our shipment which was packed the Friday before on its own pallets. The Food Bank truck drivers and the pantry caravan crew were a dedicated group of individuals who brought the food over every month regardless of the weather – rain, sleet, snow, ice, 100 degree heat, etc.
The empty storeroom was neatened up to receive the fresh load of food.
Now, at last, the food was on its way. I always got excited. Everything that could have been done to get ready for the shipment was done.
We’re ready! They’re coming!
In the very beginning when we first started ordering food monthly, the order weighed 2,000 pounds or so and we felt we had ordered all the food in the whole world. It wasn’t long until 10,000 to 12,000 pounds or so was expected every month. 16,000 pounds was considered a very large order.
Depending on what was in the order, it could seem to be much larger than it was. The result was that occasionally, several of the volunteers returned to Kingston a second time on delivery day.
On delivery day, the building committee allowed me to arrive at the pantry at 8 a.m. instead of the usual 9:00 a.m. Tuesday arrival. I used this time to make necessary last minute changes in the storeroom before the caravan rolled in.
The Hudson Correctional Team usually arrived a little before 9:00 in a dark green van. They went directly to the storeroom and assessed the situation.
Once the caravan rolled in, organized chaos reigned supreme. Go team!
Before coming to the pantry, I stopped at Woodstock Meats for six of their wonderful sandwiches, a large bag of potato chips, a large box of cookies, 6 apples, and a large coke for the men coming over from the Hudson Correctional facility.
Everyone agreed the room couldn’t hold 10,000 pounds of food. But what were we to do? We only got one delivery a month and we were making weekly trips for produce and Friday trips for canned goods. I gritted my teeth, ordered what I could get, and let the men shake their heads. Occasionally Mike Lourenso lost his temper over the amount of food coming in. I just took it. We needed the food. We had the line of credit for it. Experience with the Food Bank taught me that I needed to “strike while the iron was hot” if there was food I needed. Most of the Food Bank stock came from donations and nobody ever knew what next month’s food supply might offer. This was especially true of all USDA products as well as soup, peanut butter, water, bleach, diapers, toilet paper, coffee, surplus baked goods, cereal.
At one point I asked Peggy Johnson to do the ordering. She probably would have been better at this than I, but Mike got so angry at her that I took the job away from her. I couldn’t let anyone else take this anger. After all, I was the coordinator. The buck stopped at my desk.
I loved every one of the Hudson Correctional men. They stacked the food to the ceiling, performing stocking miracles every month. And, what’s more, they did it happily. The guys cheerfully loaded the food in the room until every last box was taken care of. Their correctional officer was a man I totally adored. He was good with them, good with the pantry volunteers, and good with the Anderson guys.
Regular volunteers came to the pantry on delivery day about 8:30 to help stock shelves. Nathan drove The Anderson Center for Autism van over with his crew.
The little pantry was stuffed to the rafters with volunteers stocking the shelves as quickly as possible. Bobbie Blitzer was the Delivery Day room supervisor. Regulars included Leticia when she wasn’t helping with the take outs, Tony Cannistra and Robin Dougherty in addition to people walking in to help.
Peggy Johnson came early on delivery day also. The hallway was a total disaster on delivery day because we had extra volunteers, more than 10,000 pounds of food coming down the hall and we had take out volunteers packing bags…all in the same hallway space at the same time.
While Peggy lined the walls with cardboard, put out the tables, and set the take out bags under the tables, Barry showed up with his Jeep stuffed with boxes of beautiful fresh produce, baked goods and bread from the Hurley Ridge Market. At this point, Peggy, Prasida, Jamie, Laura, Leticia, and Marvalene began packing the take out bags.
“First truck is taking off, Thurman. Expect them in 10-15 minutes.”
Music to my ears!
When I heard those words, I corralled the Hudson guys out front with carts and we waited for the caravan to arrive.
As the first truck arrived, I stationed myself just inside the door of the building.
“Put four boxes in the pantry and wheel the rest in the storeroom.”
“Thanks. Put all of this in the pantry.”
“Keep the line moving guys. Thanks. What’s in those boxes now?”
“Have we got any more room in the pantry for this?”
This banter went on for an hour or so as people jammed the hallway pushing hand carts to the storeroom and the pantry.
Volunteers stocked shelves.
Volunteers filled bags for takeout packages going to homebound households.
Volunteers broke down hundreds of boxes.
We never had an accident in all this organized chaos. Chalk that up to a continuation of miracles.
Then, about 11:00, everything came together.
The pantry would be so full that not one more can, box, or bag could be added.
The last truck carrying food over from Kingston pulled away from the pantry entrance empty, all the food offloaded and taken to the storeroom, or pantry. Frozen foods went to the freezers in the barn.
The Anderson team filled their van with takeout bags and drove away to make deliveries to homebound households.
Father Nicholas and his crew drove away with their van filled with takeout bags.
Prasida, Laura, and Guy each drove away with vehicles filled with deliveries.
The Hudson Crew got their lunch box and took off for the prison.
I took a deep breath.
It was now time to prepare for the Tuesday lunch class/meeting where I offered a meal, the latest news, and a little bit of training and encouragement to the volunteers before Peggy and her crew started packing next week’s canned goods in the take out bags.
I made a second trip to Woodstock Meats for sandwiches for the volunteers. Orders always included roast beef sandwichess (the number three special), ham and cheese, egg salad, and the Italian combo. Every sandwich came on Deising’s Kaiser rolls delivered to Woodstock Meats each morning from Kingston. The lettuce, tomatoes, and onions used all came from local farms.
Woodstock Meats was owned by members of the Christofora family. This family also owned Woodstock Hardware and the Laundromat. It’s my belief that they built the Laundromat less because they wanted to own another business than because they finally realized that if they didn’t do it no one would and then Woodstock wouldn’t have a Laundromat at all.
The Christofora family was good to many people in Woodstock. For example, when the pantry was a fledgling, they offered a sign special on the fence around the ball club. I felt our pantry needed this sign. I was in the process of getting the purchase of the sign approved by the board to meet the deadline when Jim Dougherty started leaping around that we couldn’t do it. When I told Kevin Cristofora we had to back out of the deal, he didn’t even skip a beat. He just gave the pantry a free sign and hosted us at food drives at the Little League Ball Games throughout the summer. For me, that was class.
Our pantry needed to be in the lineup on the fence for inclusion purposes. We were outsiders in the community for many of the people and this was a chance for us to be a little less outside. Kevin made it happen. (The food drives didn’t hurt one bit, either.)
Of course, all this fresh food offered delicious aromas. Woodstock Meats baked its roast beef on the premises and our noses knew the difference. The pickles on the sandwiches were all locally made as were the cheeses.
There was usually a bag of potato chips thrown in. Everyone had cold drinks except Leticia, who liked a fresh coffee from Woodstock Meats.
Sometimes we’d have a cake if someone fessed up to a birthday. When that happened, Barry went to Deising’s Bakery in Kingston and ordered a real birthday cake with raspberry filling, real butter cream frosting, and flowers to decorate the top of the cake.
As often as I took this order, I was never, never, never able to order the right amount of food. We either had a sandwich left over or people had to share.
There’s an art to ordering sandwiches from Woodstock Meats.
None of the food eaten by the volunteers in the pantry came from the Food Bank, or was donated by a grocery store or other generous donor to our pantry. Food Bank guidelines forbade such activities. I made a point of having everyone know where the food came from so there would be no question of the origin.
Besides, the best sandwiches in town came from Woodstock Meats. We didn’t have plates, glasses, fancy napkins, or chairs. But, we had the best food Woodstock had to offer. And, there’s nothing like eating in a refrigerator. In the summer, we set the air conditioner at 60, the lowest setting to keep the produce fresh. In the winter, we just didn’t have any heat.
We all ate the delicious food while I offered a few encouraging words.
“We broke an attendance record again last week.”
“They’re cutting food stamps again so more people will be coming next month.”
“We’ve got to do something about the cardboard. The building committee is really unhappy about the cardboard in the hallway. Can someone help pick up the cardboard and put it in Vanessa whenever it appears to be piling up?”
“We’re really short of items of dignity. There’s no shampoo, deodorant, or toothpaste in the closet. Peggy, can you call a church and see if you can get a drive going?”
“What food do we have in the barn?”
“We’ve got a benefit concert coming up next month. Is anyone volunteering at this event?”
“Thurman, we’ve got to start packing the take outs. Can you cut this short?”
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Peace and food for all.
This is the only post for this week. I’m spending the remainder of this week on special pantry activities. I hope to join you again with blogs on Friday.
Thurman Greco

Support a Homeless Friendly Pantry

“In a land of great wealth, families must not live in hopeless poverty. In a land rich in harvest, children just must not go hungry.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
So, what is a homeless-friendly pantry? What makes a pantry homeless friendly, anyway? And, how can I support such a pantry?
For starters, a homeless friendly pantry doesn’t require discriminatory identification. Homeless people living in their cars or on the porch of an unoccupied home, or in an abandoned building cannot offer proof of address. Nor should they be asked to. A shopper’s address does not belong on the list of needed information.
A homeless-friendly pantry stocks foods which homeless people can eat. Those foods include fruits and vegetables which can be eaten raw. Canned goods for homeless people have pop tops which don’t need can openers.
A homeless friendly pantry offers salads in containers that homeless people can eat out of. Salad dressings are best in small packages or containers.
Individual containers of yogurt, cottage cheese, are good choices along with small containers of milk, juice, and packages of cheese.
Peanut butter, jelly, crackers, and bread are essential. Protein bars and cereal bars should be available at all times.
A homeless-friendly pantry offers at least five items of canned/boxed/bagged food per person to a household.
A homeless-friendly pantry offers 50% fresh produce to its shoppers. Produce which can be eaten raw such as carrots, cherries, lettuce, celery, sweet peppers, is very important to the health of a homeless person to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
The most important thing a homeless-sensitive pantry offers is a respect for all shoppers regardless of their living conditions, their health issues, and their disabilities.
The best way to support a homeless-friendly pantry is by sending money and donating food.
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Peace and food for all.
Thurman Greco


“Homeless is not a category of people. It’s just a situation that happens. It can happen to anyone.” – Salvador Altamirano-Segura
GENE ESTESS died in April at 78. Mr. Estess is best known for abandoning a lucrative career on Wall Street to aid the poor, mentally ill, addicted people, and homeless in Harlem and the South Bronx. He directed the Jericho Project, a Manhattan-based nonprofit for 18 years. The Jericho project serves about 1500 adults and children, including many military veterans by offering housing and other services.

MIZUNO USA, a running shoe manufacturer, is introducing a new campaign to encourage running. Mizuno will partner with Back On My Feet, a national nonprofit organization which works with the homeless to transform their lives through running. Later this year, Mizuno will donate a dollar to Back On My Feet, for every mile a person runs for a week.

DR. PHILIP BRICKNER, a physician who made housecalls, died recently. Dr. Brickner is best known for helping to develop ways to treat homeless people.
Dr. Brickner began his unique focus on medical care in the late 1960’s when he set up “free clinics” at hotels and other places where homeless people lived.
His innovations became the basis for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act of 1987. This act mandated medical services in shelters and food lines.

THE MISSION CONTINUES, a new organization composed of veterans returning from service in foreign wars, works to help fellow veterans. Service platoons now exist in approximately nine cities with plans to have service platoons in thirty cities by the end of 2014.
The 1st Platoon NYC is renovating housing for veterans and building a playground.
The 1st Platoon works with the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness by combing the streets for chronically homeless vets and registering them to get housing and other services.

ANDREA ELLIOTT of the New York Times was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her impressive series “Invisible Child,” about the homeless girl named Dasani.

JAMES BOYD, a homeless man camping in the Sandia foothills outside Albuquerque, NM, was shot and killed at a protest in March. Mr. Boyd was a mentally ill homeless man. His death was captured on video by a camera attached to a police officer’s helmet.
Mr. Boyd’s death brings focused attention on the growing number of severely mentally ill people who are living without mental health services.

JEROME MERDOUGH, a 56-year-old Marine – homeless and suffering from mental illness – died while in custody on Rikers Island in February, 2014. Mr. Murdough died after being left unattended in his cell for hours while the temperature there climbed above 100 degrees.

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Peace and food for all.
Thurman Greco

What About the Pantry Line? Well…What About it? Info for the New Shopper

Food pantries are all about lines. Unless the food pantry you visit is brand new and nobody knows about it yet, the chances are you’re going to stand in a line. Maybe for only a few moments…maybe for an hour or more.
Don’t fret. This is your time to look, listen, and learn.
How long has the person in front of you been coming to the pantry? What advice does this person have for you?
People in lines have a tendency to speak about what’s going on in their lives. You, as a new pantry shopper can learn a lot by just listening and asking questions.
Are you going through a a foreclosure, for example? With luck, you’ll meet a person who’s walked down this street and who is willing to share his/her story. You may learn some helpful information.
Are you trying to get registered for SNAP? You’ll find tips from people in this line?
Perhaps you need your car fixed and don’t have the money for the expensive dealership repairs. The pantry line is a good place to network for names of two or three people who fix autos for less.
You will meet many, many kinds of people in the pantry line and the tendency the first two or three visits is to feel like you’ll never fit in here…and also to feel like you don’t want to ever fit in.
That’s a totally appropriate feeling. But, one of the big things happening at a pantry is meeting all kinds of people. I, personally, feel like it’s an important part of the journey.
Ideally, a pantry line is a safe space. It’s an opportunity to feel unafraid and to feel as if you are part of a community…which you are.
Thank God for the opportunity to meet the people and be a part of this community. The pantry line offers you an opportunity to enrich your life.
Thank you for reading this blog/book.
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Peace and food for all.
Thurman Greco