Hunger Is Not a Disease


“Although hurricanes can form as early as May and continue into December in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, the official Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1 and ends November 30.”
WEATHER WAS ALWAYS AN IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION AT THE PANTRY. Winters were important because of the cold, cold, cold waits in front of the building before the door opened.

Summers were another matter altogether. Storms confronted us several times throughout the season. 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 next to the side of the church building. Actually, the building was constructed right into the stream with the parking lot on the other side of the stream. Drivers crossed over a tiny bridge to park.
Often when the rains came, the little stream rose. On several separate occasions I feared for the pantry. I didn’t fear for the building. Built many years ago, it weathered many storms and high water events. I feared water would enter the pantry room which was right on ground level.

Luckily this never happened. At one point, we were distributing food and watching the water level at the same time as it rose to within two inches of the building.

“PLEASE SHOP QUICKLY. THE STREAM IS RISING. I want us to get our food before I have to close the pantry.”
I repeated those sentences over and over and over. (As if the people could have shopped any faster. They were already being pushed to their very 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 28 as a category one storm and then moved through New York State on its way over New England.
Irene caused many floods described as five-hundred-year-floods by The Weather Channel. Disastrous floods occurred in the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River Valley.

ON THE NEXT PANTRY DAY AFTER IRENE VISITED, PEOPLE FLOCKED IN. They had no power in their homes, apartments, rooms. Some had lost everything. Others were just inconvenienced by what was to be over a week without power.

All were grateful for the food they received at the pantry.Some in the line were visibly upset. It was painfully obvious that some were never going to spiritually, emotionally, and financially recover from Irene.

One couple, renting a place out near Boiceville, lost everything in the cabin they rented, 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 and get what food they can carry to their home each week.

Within a very short time, the Food Bank was making Clorox available as well as water in gallon jugs. These two items had never really been on our order schedule before.

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.

I keep water available in the pantry throughout the year if at all possible. At a minimum, shoppers can take a bottle each time they shop. In time of crisis, they can take much more depending on what we have stacked in the back.

Having bottled water stacked in the storeroom caused both problems and criticism when people who don’t understand our ordering system saw case after case after case of water just sitting in a corner. This was particularly irksome 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 they were when Irene visited. And, it was a good thing. Sandy was much larger and deadlier.

Sandy, affecting states from Florida to Maine was both the second costliest hurricane in U.S. History and the deadliest.
At the pantry, we didin’t skip a beat. As the shoppers filed in for food, we were savvy enough to ask each one about how they’d been affected by Sandy.

Probably half of the people coming through our doors in November were affected by Sandy. As with Irene, some Sandy victims in the line 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 learned 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’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 a calming experience for some people. Others were not so calmed during their first two or three visits. They looked around in the line and saw some people for what they were: alcoholics, artists, child abusers, children, crazies, the disabled, druggies, drunks, elderly men and women, hardworking people juggling two and three jobs, homeless, mentally ill, messed-up people, musicians, normal people, people battling terminal illness, politicians, schizophrenics, thieves, Woodstock’s colorful characters, volunteers.

THE FOOD BANK OF THE HUDSON VALLEY SHIPPED TRUCKLOADS OF FOOD to our community in the weeks after 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, trucks were sent out ten times. This was in addition to the food we distributed to people on regular pantry days.

AFTER IT WAS ALL OVER, I went to the Town of Woodstock Board on two separate occasions and tried to involve the town in our future efforts to feed the hungry when disaster strikes. I was never able to engage the Town Board in an effort to feed people in the event of a storm or other event inflicting damage to Woodstock.

The Good Neighbor Food Pantry had the backing of the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley. We had volunteers who were able to deliver food during times of emergency. What we lacked were community officials who believed that Woodstock would ever get hit. And, also, we had demonstrated that we could/would deliver large food shipments 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 I felt 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 asked for this, I MET GLAZED EYES, STARES, AND SILENCE. And, really, why should they cooperate? The Catholic Church was the site of these emergency mass food distributions now. Why change things? They simply didn’t see the need to get involved if they could shove the job off on someone else.

My argument was, and still is, that the community has a responsibility to offer a location. In the event of a future disaster, the parking lot of the St. John’s R.C. Church was simply not big enough. I argued that preparation for such an event would not hurt.
This chapter may or may not not have a happy resolution. To my knowledge, no one has stepped forward with a provision for emergency feeding for Woodstock in the event of a disastrous storm or other event.

Current plans are being formulated through Ulster County. These efforts may be strong enough to overcome the disinterest of the Woodstock Town government.

THE RESERVOIR FOOD PANTRY AND ITS LOCATION IN BOICEVILLE is now the focus of any disaster prevention efforts. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Boiceville residents are familiar with the aftermath of a superstorm.

Restoring normalcy to Upstate New Yorkers in the aftermath of both Irene and Sandy has been sadly lacking. Destroyed homes and businesses in our area are still not restored. A motel next to where we distribute food on Route 28 in Boiceville has been abandoned. Shoppers are coming for food who will probably never experience normalcy as they knew it before Irene and Sandy.
Sadly, mold and rot advance without any help but buildings and vehicles do not repair themselves. What we need to do is figure out how to facilitate the rebuilding of homes and businesses while preparing for the next disaster so this highly depressed area of Ulster County can begin to prosper again.

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Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco

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