Hunger Is Not a Disease



“Do you need volunteers?”  The young man speaking to me was a living, breathing dream for any pantry coordinator:

His hair wasn’t gray.  That meant he could probably lift.

He had a car.  That meant he could probably haul cardboard to the dump.

I wanted to pinch myself.  Was I dreaming?

“Sure, What do you have in mind?” I asked.

“Well, I can probably work one evening a week.  I’m ready to get started.  What needs to be done?”

After that, Chris showed up every Wednesday and did anything and everything that needed to be done:

mopping the floors.

folding down empty boxes and stuffing them in his jeep until he couldn’t get even one more in the vehicle.

Bringing case after case of canned goods from the storeroom to the pantry room.

Organizing  the storeroom.

CHRIS DIDN’T TALK TOO MUCH ABOUT HIS SITUATION.  Our culture has this $$$ taboo making it difficult for people in his situation to explain what the real problem is.  We’re all ready to bare our souls when discussing sex, crime, illness.  But we zip our lips over $$$.

Employers play the taboo card to the max.  If the average person in our country only knew how difficult it is for a person to live on a minimum wage, maybe the wages would increase.   Meanwhile, the $$$ taboo keeps people from knowing whether Walmart pays better than Target which may or may not pay better than McDonald’s.

MINIMUM WAGE WORKERS HAVE DIFFICULTY GETTING BENEFITS.   Overtime, retirement and health insurance are simply not available to most in the struggling class.

Housing poses the biggest obstacle for low wage workers.  Many simply cannot afford anything beyond housing and transportation.

Slowly, his story sort of revealed itself over the next few weeks.  His job in a big box store in Kingston was an hourly position with  neither enough hours or enough wages to buy both rent and food.

HE WAS EVERY WOMAN’S GRANDSON.  Peggy assembled his package for take out each week.

We all cheered when he came and were totally grateful for everything he did.  We loved Chris.  And, as with all things that are too good to be true, he left after a few months to work in another big box store offering more hours and a few more pennies each hour for pay.

Goodbye Chris, we love you – wherever you are.

SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, I WROTE IN A BLOG POST THAT I see the sidewalks of whatever town or city I’m in as nothing more than wards for the untreated mentally ill.

TODAY I WRITE THIS:  When I go in a big box store or chain restaurant, I  don’t see a person behind the vest or the colorful.  What is see, instead, is the collective low wage American worker living in a perpetual state of emergency.  Lunch consists of chips or a piece of bread.  Home is a car, van, or a sofa somewhere.  The loss of a day’s work means no groceries for the next…if  there is any money for food after paying the rent and transportation.


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Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco


An Open Letter to Everyone at Esotec Beverages


This is a public acknowledgement to you for your generosity throughout this year.  OurGNP43 first year at Reservoir Food Pantry brought  growth coupled with successes along the way.

EVERY PANTRY HAS SOMETHING WHICH SETS IT APART FROM ALL THE OTHERS.  One thing  setting the Reservoir Food Pantry from other area pantries is our strong take out department.  40% of the households we serve are home bound.  The residents never leave their homes.

These people all have special situations they’re dealing with:


Old age

Physical disabilities

Transportation issues

Whatever their challenges, the volunteers at Reservoir Food Pantry are there for them.  We cannot do this job without your support.  The juices and beverages you donate to us go directly into the food packages for home bound people.

Your generosity offers food of a quality that neither we nor they can possibly get anywhere else.  Neither the home bound clients nor the pantry have the funds for such delicious, nutritious food products.  Please know that when a home bound person opens a food package and finds one of your fine beverages, you have made that person’s day.

Thanks again for your generosity toward our pantry, our clients, and our community.  You are making a real difference.

Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco

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The Debate Rages On


IMG_2655-150x150An older man came into the pantry wearing a baseball cap which read “Korean War Veteran”.  I simply could not then and cannot now understand how this man, who fought as a soldier in the very brutal Korean conflict in the 1950’s is now, as an old man, reduced to standing in a pantry line for food.

ACTUALLY, I KNEW THE ANSWER.  His social security check is just not large enough to buy food and he’s outlived his savings.

One day a tall, handsome man with a generous head of wavy white hair, approached  me  in Bread Alone.  “I want to shake your hand.  I worked all my life.  When I was laid off recently, I realized that I’m never going to work again.  If it weren’t for your efforts in the pantry, I would be going hungry.”

George, while he had white hair, was not yet old enough for social security.  So, he relied on unemployment, food stamps, and the pantry.  The hope in these cases is always that the unemployment insurance will last until the social security kicks in.

ONE FAMOUS ARTIST SHOPPED REGULARLY while going through foreclosure.   He kept a positive attitude about the whole thing.  But, the sorrow was unavoidable.  He ended up living in Kingston.  He still made it over to the pantry whenever he could for about a year afterward.  The transition out of Woodstock was very difficult.


“Thurman, you are serving entirely too much food to these people.  You can’t do this.”

“Thurman, you’re filling this building with vagrants and riffraff.  You need to keep the riffraff out.”

“Thurman, why are you serving fresh fruits and vegetables in the pantry?  You

shouldn’t do this.”

“Thurman, why are you giving food to her?  She is not a responsible parent.  She needs to be raising her children  more responsibly.”


When people begin to debate  poverty, they always seem to talk





THIS IS THE WRONG DEBATE.   What we need to discuss is power, inequality, and exploitation.

Seniors, due to their age, are exploited because, when they quit working or get a retirement job, they lose their power.

Women are exploited in both the workplace and domestic situations.  They are not paid equal wages for jobs performed.


POVERTY IS A HIGHLY CHARGED ISSUE.  If you don’t believe me, try listening to politicians rage on  about how the minimum wage should or should not be increased. The Obama care battle is still being waged.  The movement to gut the food stamp benefits and unemployment benefits is popular.

Corporate downsizing is  routine in our country  with layoffs occuring in both good times and bad.


Workers in America have no overtime pay, no retirement funds, no health insurance, and no voice.

Minimum wages in tandem  with part time employment force people to work several jobs.  Holding down 2 or 3  jobs is the norm in  communities throughout our country.


How can a person:

get a better job which does not exist?

get more education when the $$$ to pay for it is not available to him/her?

pay for healthcare when there in’t even enough $$$ for food?

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Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco


Hunger Hurts – But You Can Help!


RFP-Tent (1)When you donate to the Reservoir Food Pantry, you can be secure in knowing that your gift is not wasted.  Volunteers are just that:  unpaid workers giving generously of their time and effort.  Generous gifts have paid for food each month from the Food Bank where every dollar spent buys $10 of food.  Now, through a unique opportunity offered by the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, and the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley,  you can give directly to the Food Bank knowing that your donation will go to Reservoir Food Pantry.

When you donate to the Reservoir Food Pantry through the Food Bank  Adopt-a-Program, you establish a special line of credit which will allow our pantry to have more food for our clients.  You will  stretch our food buying power with the Food Bank,  and you will be using your donation dollars to solve hunger needs on a local level.  You will be using your donation money in the most efficient and effective way possible.

You can reach the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley at 845-534-5344.  Or, you can reach the Food Bank through

Thank you in advance for your thoughtfulness and generosity.  Thank you for helping us to help  friends, relatives, and neighbors who find themselves struggling to put enough food on the table.

When you donate to the Food Bank  Adopt-a-Program, you give so we can deliver and the struggling hungry can receive.  When we feed the hungry, we strengthen the entire community as we assist those who are most vulnerable.

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Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco





And…it’s Walmart time again!

Pantry HND 3“Just asking for  food to feed the hungry.”

“Thank you for your donation”.


Each of us  working for the pantry outside the Walmart has a different introduction we use when we speak to the shoppers.  We’ve been outside the Walmart monthly since last fall.  The only month we didn’t stand outside the entrance was December when the Salvation Army puts out its volunteer ringing the bell.

In February, the temperature was 2 degrees.  Standing outside the store in July, we all commented that the broiling heat was better than the cold.

But, really, in our hearts of hearts, we don’t care what day it is, what the time is, what the temperature is.  What matters is that we’re outside the entrance and it’s our favorite place to be.

No, I’m not lying.  I totally adore being outside the Walmart.  We’ve made friends with everyone:




On Friday, a young couple came up to show off their brand new baby who wasn’t even here yet at our September visit.

One of my favorite people at the Walmart is a homeless woman who always manages to bring us a can of food.

Employees drop by throughout the day to see if we’re okay.

In the midst of all the community, we’re raising $$$ to buy food to keep the pantry open another month.  And…that’s no small job.  Our census rises every month.  Last month, we served 800 people.

For a young pantry, just a little over a year old, to have the food and funds to feed 800 people is something to be extremely proud of.  Reservoir Food Pantry volunteers can do this because they know how to focus on the task at hand.

Prasida, Bob, Louise, Barbara, and Garrett know how to focus on feeding the people.  The focus is completely “with us” all three days.

This focus offers opportunity to:

really enjoy what we’re doing.

set goals.

bond with the people we meet.

keep our pantry open.

As the coordinator, I’m often asked:  “Who sponsors your pantry?”

Thank you to everyone at the Walmart, both customers and employees.  Without you, we wouldn’t be able to feed 800+ people every month.  When we feed the hungry, we strengthen our whole community.  We couldn’t do this without your support.

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Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco




RFP-Tent (1)

You won’t hear statements like these at our food pantry:

“No  one coming to our pantry gets food unless I know they really need it.  I go to their house and check.”

“We make everyone show ID.  We need proof of address, proof of your children.”

“We make everyone show their Social Security card at our pantry.”

FOR ME, THE VERY WORD “CHARITY” IS CREEPY.   I’m not in a charitable business.  I’m in the business of feeding hungry people food diverted from a landfill.

I love to multi-task and, as a pantry coordinator, I’m really in my element.  The pantry I manage feeds all manner of people a 3-day-supply of food.  This   is delicious, nutritious food, much of which is organic.

Farmers, grocers, food manufacturers, share what they cannot sell.  As I distribute all this food –  left over because it’s the wrong shape, wrong size, maybe the wrong color –  they get a tax break.

Personally, I love the idea that landfills are not getting larger so quickly, that fewer dumpsters and composters are being used.  And, at the same time…sick people, old people, unemployed people, homeless people, are not going hungry.


At the Reservoir Food Pantry, we have  the least possible eligibility requirements.   People coming to our pantry sign their name and check off the number of household residents.  That’s it.

(When I had been a coordinator only a few months, someone complained loudly and a fancy USDA inspector drove down from Albany for the express purpose of taking me to the woodshed.  That didn’t happen.  He approved of the pantry.  He carefully explained to me what’s necessary for our sign-in procedures.  I’ve followed them ever since.)

Basically, if they’re hungry, we give them the food.  Anyone willing to stand in line an hour for food can’t be all that rich.

PANTRIES OFFERING CHARITY HAVE AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT APPROACH.    Once we get into charity, we make the shopper feel:







When charity and outreach become a part of the feeding, food workers become possessive of the food.  The big question then becomes:  “Are you worthy?”

Charity brokers forget the food is not owned by the coordinators, churches, volunteers, board members.  It has been entrusted to us to distribute.

OUR JOB IS TO GIVE IT AWAY.   At the Reservoir Food Pantry, we understand this concept.  We offer, whenever possible, a service preserving dignity.

In our great nation, there is no excuse for anyone to go hungry because our country is oversupplied with food.

When we feed the hungry, we strengthen the entire community.

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Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco



Books! Books! Books! – For a Food Pantry?

Pantry HND1

One thing no one ever discusses in the pantry is the past.  They speak about things that happened last week or so but never beyond.  Whatever happened before they find the pantry is just not on the agenda.  As holidays approach, no one ever speaks about the Thanksgivings, Christmases, Hanukkahs, Passovers they had before their lives spun out of control.  No one ever mentions  that there isn’t enough money to get Passover food.  No one ever asks a child what Santa is going to bring.

“Hi Thurman.  How’re you doing?  I know we haven’t spoken in awhile but I’m wondering if your pantry can use some books?”

“Of course!  We offer food for the body and now we’ll have books for the soul. ” What could be better?

So, within a very short time, my car was parked outside the door of Lisa Library in Kingston getting stuffed with boxes of beautiful, educational, fun, adorable, new books for children.  While I was still pinching myself to be sure it was really happening, we headed out for the pantry and stacked them for distribution on Monday.

This is a real gift…a prayer answered.  This time of year I’m always searching for things people can  use as holiday gifts.  It goes without saying that gifts are just not in anyone’s budget right now.  (Not in the pantry world, anyway.)

We  have families with children coming to our pantry.    They’ll  go home (wherever and whatever that is) with a special treat this week.

We also have  grandparents with not one penny for a holiday gift for grandchildren.  Well, now, thanks to Elisa Gee and Lisa Library, these grandchildren have a chance to get a gift from a grandparent.

Thank you Lisa Library!

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Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco




Who Volunteers? – Working in a food pantry

RFP-Tent (1)

THE SHORT ANSWER?   Everybody.  But, of course, that’s not the whole story.

Can you:

drive a car?

drive a truck?

say “Welcome” to frightened people?

stock food on shelves?

direct traffic in the parking lot behind Robert”s Auction?

address envelopes?

stuff envelopes?

call people up and ask them to help deliver food ?

sit at a table in front of the Kingston Walmart?

But, really, whether or not you can do anything on the list is irrelevant.  If you want to get a close look at the ideal volunteer, simply go over to the nearest mirror and take a look.

DOES THE MIRROR YOU’RE LOOKING IN HAVE A CRACK?  Is it chipped?  Are there a few spots?  So much the better.

GNP55The ideal volunteer is you and me and our neighbors down the street.  We’re all qualified for the job.  And, if someone has just remarked on how old you are, that just makes you even more qualified.

Remember, in a pantry, there are no overqualified people.

The better question is not “Who” but “Why”?

PEOPLE ARE SEEKING AN OPPORTUNITY TO SOCIALIZE.   Humans are social beings and it’s important for our mental, physical, and spiritual health to stay connected to our community.  There is no better place to maintain this connection than working in a pantry.

IT’S IMPORTANT TO STAY PHYSICALLY FIT.   Working at a pantry  offers  fun exercise without the cost of going to a gym.

DO YOU NEED FOOD?   Many pantry volunteers use the pantry.  This is important.  We’re bringing the very same food into the pantry and distributing  that we are also shopping from.  We’re not asking anyone to take home food that we consider inferior.  People are happy to come to the Reservoir Food Pantry  because the quality and variety of the food is the best we can get.  This wouldn’t happen if we didn’t shop at the pantry ourselves.

Have life’s circumstances caused you to feel as though you’ve been put out to pasture?  Not to worry.  Retirement and/or loss of a job happen to all of us.  The absolute  backbone of the food pantry industry is  retired people.  Retired people are an indispensable part of the entire business of feeding the hungry.  In fact, I’m using every one of my life skills in the pantry and I’m in my 70’s.

WORKING IN A PANTRY OFFERS US ALL AN OPPORTUNITY TO SOCIALIZE.   When you work at a food pantry, you are surrounded by people  doing things.  You are with people who care.

Working at a pantry offers volunteers an opportunity to be around people who are different from ourselves.  Working at a pantry will put you shoulder-to-shoulder with  people who are different in age, race, education, first language, religious belief, political outlook, and social class.  In a pantry, we’re people from all walks of life working  together to feed hungry people.


Everyone works with a single goal:  to feed the hungry.  Goals give us  meaning and purpose in life.

There is a downside, though.  The blessings  we all receive from this work distract us from 2 harsh facts of life:

deteriorating economic conditions and

increasing inequality.

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Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco




Food pantries are a little quirky.

Working in a Small Upstate Community

IMG_2647-150x150The little bright green flier on the counter in Bread Alone read:  “Business Closing”.   The message  for us?  Make it over to the book store across from the library and buy what never sold during the summer.


BMG GALLERY, AFTER MANY, MANY YEARS MOVED TO BEARSVILLE.   My guess  is that he’s found a web business niche.  But I don’t know that.  Anyway, he’s gone and in the gallery now is a bright red-and-white dream named “Woodstock Workplace”.

On the plus side, the corner deli which closed months ago is being refurbished and transformed into an upscale take out place called “Shindig”.

The boutique next door to Joshua’s appears to be in the process of rebirth with  a small sign announcing “Little House”.

Also important:  The 3 new businesses are still not real estate offices.  Real estate offices are wonderful and, over the years, have kept Woodstock thriving with many weekend owners.  But,  a new deli or boutique will help keep the walking tourists coming for the other businesses still struggling along.

EVERY AUTUMN, WHEN THE LEAVES TURN GORGEOUS COLORS, I LOOK AROUND TOWN TO SEE WHICH BUSINESSES WILL CLOSE.   This exercise begins, actually, in the summer.  I watch  the tourists flock to Woodstock.     I never notice what they look like, how old or wealthy they appear, or where they seem to come from.  What I see is how many shopping bags they carry as they walk along the street and shop.

On any given day, the most popular product sold in Woodstock seems to be the ice cream at Taco Juan’s.  Go Taco Juan!

Michael  B. Katz, in his book “The Undeserving Poor” writes about  ghettos.

A ghetto is a place where residents leave town for the job they do and buy what they need outside where they live.   The wages they bring home are not enough to accumulate.


While I realize  most of the people I know in Woodstock are from somewhere else, I also realize many, many wealthy people have homes in Woodstock.  Some of those people even bank in Woodstock.  If you don’t believe me, look around at the three banks.  Two of them  just completed the most extravagant improvements they could imagine on their newly acquired buildings.  It was a contest between Ulster Savings Bank  and  Mid Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union.  I think the credit union won.

But, whoever spent the most is unimportant.  What’s important here is that a few local residents had jobs for awhile as the upgrades were applied:  carpenters, plumbers, pavers, landscapers, painters, security equipment specialists, …

WOODSTOCK IS A COMMUNITY BOASTING THAT OVER HALF OF ITS RESIDENTS ARE WEEKENDERS. They have primary residences elsewhere and  leave Woodstock to accumulate more of the wealth they use to live here.

Woodstock is also comfortable for the over-50 crowd.  We, many of us, came to Woodstock with our pensions, nest eggs, stock, bonds, and worldly possessions.

PANTRY EXPERIENCE TAUGHT ME THERE IS ALSO A GROUP, A LARGE GROUP OF PEOPLE IN WOODSTOCK WORKING FULL-TIME, YEAR-ROUND, FOR POVERTY-LEVEL WAGES.  The basic productive resource of our community, which is gained outside Woodstock, is this labor.

THOSE FORTUNATE TO HAVE JOBS IN WOODSTOCK ARE OFTEN PAID “OFF THE BOOKS”.   If they’re lucky, they’re paid “half on and half off”.  They make enough money to pay the rent and buy the gas to get to the jobs.  There is no over time, no retirement fund, no health insurance.

DESPITE THAT, THEY’RE LUCKY. How can a person survive, let alone thrive, in this situation?  It takes 2 steady paychecks just to live indoors.

I don’t know how many employed people in our area are homeless.  I’ve read some statistics on the subject but I don’t believe them because I know how difficult it is to get even close to an accurate count.  My guestimate is that 10% of the poverty level employed are homeless.

Don’t quote me on that percentage.  For that matter, don’t quote anyone else either.

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Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco


There’s all this Food out There

IMG_2647-150x150“While you’re making your way around the room, take what you need of the fresh produce, breads and bakery items.  We’ve got potatoes here and carrots, onions, peppers, spinach, salad mix.  Take what you can eat in 3 days.

“IS THIS YOUR FIRST VISIT?   Welcome!  We hope you’ll come every week.  That’s how you get the best deals.  Come on in.   Go around the pantry in a clockwise direction.  Begin here with a bottle of water.  Now, as you go around the room, can you use a box of cereal?  How about a jar of peanut butter?  We have some jelly today.  Take a jar of mayonnaise, too.”

I was speaking with a new shopper, a young woman who had just come in the door.  She was on the verge of tears.  I  learned  the best way to handle this situation was to  cheerfully guide her through the room.  When a person cried, I  treated the event as though everything was normal.  And, it was normal to see people crying in the pantry occasionally.  If they asked for a tissue, I gave them one.  Other than that, I  ignored the tears.

“No thanks.  I have a jar of mayonnaise at home now.  My kitchen is almost totally empty because my husband hasn’t worked in 7 months.  I’m completely out of food.  But I do have some mayonnaise.”

“Take it anyway.  You never know when we’ll get more in.”  Back on this wall is the USDA section.  Take a can of each type of vegetable or fruit for each person in your household.   That means you can take cans of vegetarian beans, refried beans, green beans, corn, peaches, and tomato sauce.  How many people are in your household? “There’s me, my husband and our 2 daughters.  They’re in elementary school.”

MONTHS LATER HER STORY REVEALED ITSELF.   Her husband, badly injured in an accident, may never work again.  They sold  a piece of land  for money to live on.  One child has diabetes.  Here was a woman struggling against all obstacles to do the best she can to raise her children properly.

I’M ALWAYS PROUD TO CARRY USDA PRODUCTS IN THE PANTRY.   When a person’s kitchen is totally empty, it’s a godsend to be able to take several cans of different foods to put on the shelves at home.  Our tax dollars are at work here.

Let’s consider the United States Department of Agriculture for a moment.  As our country accumulates agricultural surpluses, the food is distributed to those in need.  I always get the feeling that our government is embarrassed by this food.

A much better, more mature, more realistic attitude  is to realize (understand)  it’s impossible to produce only the food we need.  It’s  better to have too much food than too little.

Droughts and floods work on their own schedules and weather is very difficult to control.



Diverting food from landfills offers communities an opportunity to feed people who don’t have any money after paying for housing and transportation to work.

Diverting food from landfills offers communities an opportunity to improve our environment.

Diverting food from landfills offers communities an opportunity to ensure that children do not go to school hungry.  This is a major investment in the future because children have a difficult time learning on an empty stomach.


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Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco