Hunger Is Not a Disease

Miriam’s Well at the Food Pantry, St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, Woodstock Commons, and Woodstock Meadows



“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room on earth.” – Muhammed Ali
After looking for a building without much success, I turned to my Board Members and volunteers. I invited the people interested in solving the severe overcrowding problems we faced in the hallways.
Richard Spool, Richard Allen, Guy Oddo, Harriet Kazansky, and I met one morning in my healing space. We decided to explore the idea of using a truck to distribute food. After the meeting, I called the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley and learned about a pantry in Liberty using a truck to deliver food.
After a few phone calls, we made an appointment, filled Vanessa with people, and everyone set off to see what might work for us. Rich Allen drove. Guy Oddo, Rich Spool, Harriet Kazansky, Prasida Kaye, and Peggy Johnson rode along and asked many questions. I didn’t go for several reasons. First, I wanted every car seat filled with board members and volunteers. Second, I knew what I wanted. I wanted out of that building and its millions of rules and overstuffed hallways. A truck seemed to me like the only plausible way out.
They returned sold on the idea.
Peggy was a holdout but it was okay. She was a total building person and if anybody could get us a building, it was Peggy and her determined spirit. Besides, if Peggy found us a building, the truck would still be needed.
Guy Oddo, Richard Spool, and Rich Allen drove over to Kingston to the U-Haul store and looked at the trucks. Rich Allen had thoroughly checked everything on the internet with Robert at his side. The U-Haul place had a couple of good trucks for us. Rich, Rich, and Guy wanted a truck that anyone could drive, not just someone with a Commercial Driver’s License.
It wasn’t too many weeks before they found a truck at a good price. Rich Spool went over to Upstate Signs and got Chester to paint the sign.
We named her Miriam’s Well.
As soon as the deal was signed and sealed, Guy went to Father George at St. John’s Catholic Church and arranged a parking slot for her.
It was all so exciting! We had a truck. Rich, Rich, and Guy outfitted the back into a wonderful food pantry. And we had a parking space! What more could we ask for?
Drivers, that’s what.
No problem. Rich Allen had the answer. We called together volunteers interested in driving Miriam’s Well. Al, Ann, and Bruce Abrams, Barry Greco and myself, Jamie Allen, Richard Spool, were signed up and we got insurance for everyone at Naccaratto’s.
We passed out a few job titles. Rich Allen became the Truck Master because he had more driving experience than anyone. He set the whole thing up, designed the pantry in the truck, and did all the repairs.
Guy Oddo was the Route Master because his job was to see that there were always three people riding in Miriam’s Well on every trip. He was also our contact person with St. John’s Roman Catholic Church.
We all gathered in the parking lot right by Miriam’s Well late one afternoon and Rich Allen trained us all in how to properly conduct a 21-point check before pulling out of the parking lot each trip. We learned what forms to fill out and how to be respectful when we had a roadside inspection or when the cops stopped us.
“When you come to get Miriam’s Well, the first thing you do is unplug the appliances from the pantry in back. The plug is on the wall of the building over there. Then roll up the extension cord and put it in the truck behind the freezer.
Next, walk around Miriam’s Well and check the pressure on the tires. Check the lug nuts. Check underneath to see if there’re any leaks.
Then walk up front, lift the hood to check the fluids: oil, transmission, radiator, antifreeze, brakes, power steering.
Check the mirrors. Are they all there and are they positioned properly?
Get in the cab and turn on the lights. Is every light working?”
And on and on and on.
Prasida and I joked several times about the 21-point truck inspection. “Imagine doing all that every day, Thurman. How can we even remember it much less do it?”
The third time Prasida and I were scheduled to go to Latham in the truck, we jokingly prepared to do the 21-point inspection only to find that the truck was completely out of oil.
“Wow! Where did it go? Yesterday, on the inspection, there was a lot of oil in the crankcase.” We learned a lesson on that trip.
We never did find out what happened to the oil. But, never mind. The important thing was that we found out about it before any damage was done.
Another day, on the inspection, we discovered a lot of oil in the radiator. What was happening here? We never found out.
Richard Allen outfitted the back with four freezers. Pantry funds bought two of them. I donated one box freezer and Barry Motzkin donated a gorgeous upright freezer. Richard Allen built shelves for the canned goods and rigged up lights for the back area.
From day one Miriam’s Well was on the road every day. We left Woodstock at 6:00 a.m., Prasida, Rich Allen, and myself, and drove to Latham to return with fresh produce in time to pack it into the pantry. Our usual haul was about 3,000-4,000 pounds. It was glorious! Most of the food was donated produce and baked goods “on the way to the landfill.” To us, it was the most marvelous food in the world: organic oranges, apples, lettuce, spinach, baked goods, potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbages, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, all manner of fresh foods.
Now, instead of a family getting several potatoes from the pantry, they would leave with bags of potatoes, carrots, apples, limes. In addition to the regular Bread Alone bread, families would take a pie or cake too.
We set up distribution sites. We distributed food in the yard at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, Woodstock Commons, and Woodstock Meadows.
These distribution sites made it easier for the older, ill, transportation challenged person to get food, and reduced congestion in the hallways significantly. Working from the truck allowed us to offer better quality food to more people for less money, time, and effort.
The surprise was how wonderful this whole distribution process was. As we drove up to a distribution point people came over to greet us with smiles on their faces. Children came running over. Everyone was happy to be there. There were no long lines, no embarrassment or shame, no feelings of isolation. They didn’t feel as if they were shopping at the pantry at all. People who were too embarrassed to shop in a pantry were comfortable shopping out of the truck.
There was time to visit and talk over the news of the day which brought us all back to our childhood Bible study classes of life at the village well. That’s why we named the truck Miriam’s Well.
The story of Miriam’s ell goes back to the Old Testament. It begins when Miriam, the older sister of Moses, placed the three-month-old baby in a basket and put the basket in the reeds on the river’s edge where he was saved by the Pharoah’s daughter. He was raised by the Pharoah’s daughter to live not only to adulthood but to lead the Jewish people to freedom. When Moses was leading his people in the desert for forty years, they were sustained by Manna, the Clouds of Glory and the Well.
Miriam’s Well, as it became known, was a rolling rock accompanying the Jewish people in their wanderings. Miriam’s Well offered sustenance to the desert and green pastures wherever the people were.
And, that was our goal: to offer sustenance to the hungry people wherever we went in honor of Miriam and Moses.
One Monday in St. Gregory’s yard, we were honored with a visit from the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley. Ron VanWarmer, Associate Director, and Amy Robillard, Nutritionist, joined us under the tree.
As Murphy’s Law took over, our produce shipment was delayed. While we waited for Roseann Castaldo and Gene Huckle, Amy set up her nutrition class table and began an informative and entertaining class complete with recipes and servings of a wonderful salad. Ron mingled with the crowd of shoppers, visiting with them, answering questions, and otherwise keeping everyone occupied until the produce arrived.
Whew! I hope we never have a delayed produce shipment again. Ron and Amy saved the day.
We discovered a wonderful volunteer at St. Gregory’s one Monday afternoon. Prasida and I showed up at the church yard only to feel that we needed an extra volunteer. Tall, Thin John stepped up the truck. “I can help you.” he said.
And, help he did. From that day on, we had Tall Thin John working at Miriam’s Well with us. He also worked at the pantry itself. He was wonderful with the shoppers and we all loved having him around.
Peace and food for all.
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Thurman Greco