Hunger Is Not a Disease

Food Pantry Rules

A food pantry is what it is because of three things:

the economic situation at the moment

the volunteers

the people who shop there.

The people come together looking for groceries but often, they want and need far more.

While the coronavirus pandemic rages, the food pantry lines get longer every pantry day because people, families, deal with change they didn’t ask for.

In short, they are rewriting their destiny stories without a road map or instructions.

A number of the people in the pantry, both shoppers and volunteers,  didn’t know about food pantries until circumstances  set up a situation where they suddenly looked around a room and realized where they were.

There is a name for their category – SITUATIONAL POOR.

A person fits into the situational poor category when s/he lands in a situation created by an event such as a hurricane, fire, floor, pandemic, or other disaster which destroys the home, car, job.

Pantries offer much – peace, community, spiritual connection, groceries.  I always think of a food pantry in the basement of a church as a cross between a church service and a busy pizza place.

A food pantry, and those connected with it, are not a program.  They are a community.  As volunteers, all we really do is open the door.  As all the hungry people walk through the door, they undergo a change somehow.

Each person in a pantry, in whatever capacity, has experienced rejection in some way – too young, too old, too crazy, too sick, too poor, not poor enough.

The food pantry experience  does not heal a person, nor does it change the story.

The food pantry experience does not offer therapy.

The food pantry is, instead, a conduit for each person’s own healing.


Sign your name in the register as you enter the pantry.

Find a place in line.

Do not crowd or block the door to the pantry room.

No more than 2 shoppers are allowed in the pantry at one time.

No more than one new shopper is allowed in the pantry at one time.

Shop for a three-day supply of food for everyone in your household.

Place your selections on the table as you shop.

Respect the restrictions on certain foods.

Finish your shopping in 10 minutes.

Once you begin to bag your groceries, do not continue to shop.

Because the food availability is different each time you shop, it is best to visit the food pantry weekly.

Thank you.

Thurman Greco

P.S.  The rules may be different at the pantry where you shop.  Each food pantry is different.  The space is different.  The times the pantry is open is different.  The management is different.

These  specific rules were used in the food pantry I managed where the people were many, the space small, and the hours few.

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Statistics, Statistics, Statistics in a small town food pantry in Woodstock, New York


“In many cases, homelessness is caused by extreme misfortune, not the lack of motivation by people who suffer from it.”-Elaina Wilson

EVERY MONTH  we (pantries, soup kitchens) send our statistics to the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNA) people – the government. Numbers tell it all: how many seniors, adults, children in how many households came by for a three-day-supply of food. Except…sometimes the numbers really don’t tell it all.

A Wednesday afternoon in the pantry prepares the statistics for the HPNAP people:
“Hi, how are you doing today? Can you sign your name here? How many people are in your household? The line isn’t too long today. Things seem to be going pretty fast.”
“Nice to see you Mary. How’re things going for you?”

“Thurman, we’re so glad we could make it here today.   We’ve been having a little bit of a rough patch lately. Our three grandkids are coming tomorrow and we don’t have any food in the house at all.”

Or…”How are you doing today? Your hat is just beautiful. I bet it’s one of the ones you made yourself. Glad to see you.”

“I’M NOT DOING TOO WELL TODAY.   I got evicted and I’m moving in with my friend Mike. And, he lives in a studio over on Simmons. Thurman, this year has been such a struggle. Here I am, a talented, well educated woman. I just can’t seem to overcome the obstacles I’m being faced with. I can’t get a job. My efforts to start something have just not worked at all. I’m so sorry to be unloading these things on you but, right now, there’s just no one else.”

IN THE RESOURCE POOR CATEGORY THE FAMILIES CHOOSE BETWEEN FOOD AND  utilities, food and housing payments, food and medicine or medical care, food and transportation, food and gasoline. This category chooses between everyday necessities and food.
Or…”We haven’t seen you in awhile. How’re you doing?”

“ACTUALLY, I’M DOING PRETTY GOOD.  I GOT THE BONE MARROW TRANSPLANT SCHEDULED  for next month and now I’m looking for someone to go down with me to the city to help take care of me when I get out of the hospital. I have to stay in a motel for three months after the transplant and they won’t let me get the transplant until someone promises to go and be with me. Do you know someone who can go with me? Thurman, I have absolutely no money to pay this person. I’ve got no money left at all. I know you aren’t allowed a bulletin board but can I put up some kind of notice somewhere for help?”
“I wish we did. But the building committee won’t allow us to put anything on the walls. I’ll try to spread the word, though.”

MANY PEOPLE SERVED BY PANTRIES LIVE IN  poor health or without access to adequate medical care. About 50% of pantry shoppers have unpaid medical or hospital bills. This lack of insurance can be financially devastating to a family when illness strikes. The longer a person is uninsured, the worse the health becomes.

Or…”Hey Chuck, how’re you doing? We haven’t seen you in awhile.”

“Not so good Thurman. I’ve got to have neck surgery again. This is going to be the third time. I’m not even supposed to be out today but I’m completely out of food.”
Or…”Good to see you Bob. We haven’t seen you in awhile. What’s happening?”
“Well, Thurman, my car’s engine died so I can’t get out of the house. I’m completely out of food so I begged a neighbor to bring me here today.”

MOST PEOPLE SEEKING FOOD ASSISTANCE LIVE IN  households existing below the Federal Poverty Line. About 75% of these people nationally earn less than $17,000 per year for a household of three.

Or…”How’re you doing today?”
“Fred’s still in the hospital. He’s been diagnosed with kidney disease and is on a special diet I’m so glad you had me go see Dr. Longmore. He told me exactly who to go see, what paperwork to get…everything I needed to get care for Fred. Because, Thurman, you know that I don’t have a dime. He’s going to get out of the hospital soon and will be on a special diet. Thank God the pantry has all these fruits and vegetables. Thurman, I don’t know what we would do without this pantry. You know we have no money and are living right on the edge. I’m hoping you have some laundry soap today.”

Or…”We haven’t seen you in a looong time. How’re things going?”
“WELL, IT’S BEEN A VERY COLD WINTER.   I’ve been having a little housing trouble. I was camping out on Meads Mountain but I got caught and fined $500. So, I picked up my things and moved in from the road another thousand feet. I don’t think anyone can see me from the road now. And, I’ll tell you Thurman, it’s cold up there.”

Taken from the perspective of the people in the line, the statistics tell it all…just like it is.

1063 households
1464 Adults
537 seniors
616 children
That about tells it all.
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Peace and food for all.
Thurman Greco

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.
Thanks for reading this blog/book.
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Please send a comment.
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

Children in the Good Neighbor Food Pantry in Woodstock

Everything tells us that children who grow up in poverty are much more likely to be adults in poverty.” – Peter Edelman
Invisible, almost, children came with their parents to the pantry weekly for food. These children are so well behaved in the line and in the pantry. How those kids stood in line with their parents all that time every week and remained well behaved, I’ll never know.
As more and more households work more and more hours at minimum wage jobs to pay more and more money for rent, more and more families are appearing in pantry lines.
That means children. Prior to 2008, there were few to no children in the line at the Good Neighbor Food Pantry in Woodstock. “There weren’t any lines either. With the downfall of the economy, more and more children were seen in the hallways.
For the most part, these children were beautiful, alert, intelligent. They were brought by parents or grandparents to shop for a three-day supply of food which lasted seven days.
Every time I saw a child in the pantry I was grateful for the efforts our pantry volunteers made weekly to get the most nutritious food we could find and being back to our pantry. The pantry carried some cookies, cakes, and occasional bags of chips. For the most part, our food was the best we could find. Anything organic we could find was brought back to our pantry.
Every time I saw a child in the pantry I was grateful for the efforts of their parents and grandparents made weekly to bring them to get the most nutritious food available because Woodstock had no supermarket.
People bought food in Woodstock at the CVS, RiteAid Pharmacy, Cumberland Farms, and Woodstock Meats. Woodstock was also home of the famous Sunflower Natural Foods Market but many of our shoppers simply couldn’t afford the prices there. Ditto for Sunfrost. Technically, Woodstock, New York, is a grocery store desert. The nearest grocery store is Hurley Ridge Market, an IGA, located seven miles out on Rte 375 in the community of West Hurley. There is no sidewalk to this store. A Price Chopper is eleven miles away in Saugerties on Route 212.
One household with children came to the pantry weekly with their parents. This household was a household of volunteers. They shopped at the pantry, too. When the pantry was open, Robert and Mikey were there with their parents Richard and Jamie Allen.
Richard stood outside the building as the pantry was opening.
Richard carefully watched the parking lot to keep the chaos down.
Richard managed the hallway.
Richard totally knew the stock in the storeroom.
Richard made sure everyone shopping at the pantry had help getting their food to their cars.
Richard made friends with everyone in the shopper line.
Richard walked down to the barn several times each afternoon when the pantry was open.
Richard stood in the pantry room when the shopping line was overcrowded.
Richard was always on the lookout for anything which might upset the flow of the people into the pantry.
Richard taught Robert to help out in the pantry.
Richard taught Robert to break down the used cardboard boxes.
Richard and Robert did their best to keep the cardboard out of sight.
Richard taught Robert to help out in the barn.
Richard taught Robert to haul groceries out to the shoppers’ cars.
Richard taught Robert to get the handcart ready for the food when a large household came shopping so there wouldn’t be so much heavy lifting.
Richard didn’t teach Robert to climb to the top shelves in the storeroom to retrieve much needed items. Robert learned that on his own.
Robert, 10, loved food…any kind of food. Whenever Robert wasn’t otherwise occupied helping out in the pantry, breaking down cardboard boxes, helping his dad in the storeroom, the barn or the parking lot, he liked to come to the pantry room and eat anything that didn’t eat him first…raw. I always felt Robert is destined to be a chef someday.
Little Mikey, 5, was never unhappy or trying to get into trouble. Mikey wanted nothing more than to help out in any way possible. Of course, being 5, Mikey invented ways to help if we didn’t give him direction. All in all, he was a gift to the pantry, smiling and greeting everyone who came. For many, this was transformational. Mikey was therapy.
Everyone at the pantry smiled when the Allens showed up to volunteer. They had their own little caravan going. Rich drove in with Robert riding shot gun. They had a bright chartreuse repurposed ambulance which still had the sirens.
Jamie drove a 22-year-old red Ford pickup with a black camper top which Richard and Robert kept going.
Jamie helped assemble the food for the take out bags.
Jamie helped pack the take out bags.
Jamie helped in the hallway.
Jamie assisted the older and infirm shoppers.
Jamie was loved by everyone.
Children are important in a pantry. For one thing, there are many malnourished children needing the food offered by pantries. It’s estimated that 75% of the people shopping at pantries are food insecure which means they don’t have enough food to eat on a regular basis.
It’s also estimated that 25% of the people receiving food at pantries are children. Malnourished children experience more learning difficulties and more illnesses. Hungry children have a difficult time learning. They get sick more often than their well nourished classmates.
Thank you for reading this blog/book.
Please share this article with your preferred social network.
Please send a comment.
Peace and food for all.
Thurman Greco

A Prayer

Pantries are secular places, in New York State, anyway. We cannot discriminate against a person/family/household because of religious beliefs.
We “cannot engage in the promotion of a particular religion or political party as part of our feeding programs nor require clients to attend religious or political services or instruction in order to receive food.”
That being said, I read a prayer at the beginning of every board meeting. I felt then, and feel now, that it grounded the board members for the meetings. There was always spoken and unspoken push back from several board members about my pantry activities.
The pantry prayer that I read is repeated below. It is two sections. The top section was written by myself. The second part, beginning with the words “O God of abundance…” I got from Sara Miles’ book “Take This Bread.”
To the God to whom we all pray –
We ask that our hands, hearts, minds, and souls be illuminated by the light of your compassion and unconditional love.
We ask that this meeting proceed for the highest good of all connected to our pantry:
The volunteers
The board
The customers who shop in the pantry
The people who donate the food
The workers at the food bank
And those who are seeking, but have not yet found, the pantry.
We ask for the protection and continued improvement of the health of our volunteers and shoppers in the pantry.
Please send Bodisaphas and Angels to guide and protect us as we strive to feed the people.
O God of Abundance, you feed us everyday. Rise in us now, make us into your bread, that we may share your gifts with a hungry world, and join in love and healing with all people.
Thank you.