“When we talk cooking and eating, we are talking love, since the entire history of how a family loves – where and how they learned to love can be told in most kitchens.” – Marion Roach Smith
EVERYONE COMING TO A PANTRY TRAVELS DOWN A PATH. For many, this journey is a real load lightener. As the finances erode, the housing goes. And, of course, when the house or apartment goes, most of what was in it, goes too.
Furniture, kitchen items, toys, clothes, tools, garden implements, books, photos, souvenirs – by the timne a person or family gets to Motel 19, things have been slimmed down to a few clothes, a blanket or two, a hot plate, or maybe an electric skillet. Maybe a toy or two if there are children.
ABOUT 40 HOUSEHOLDS ARE LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE IN MOTEL 19. Half of these households are composed of individuals. The other half are families. For the families living in Motel 19, the children are usually eligible for the school breakfast and/or lunch program. But, that doesn’t give them enough to eat at home. And, there’s no lunch program for the adults.
So…it’s off to the pantry.
PANTRIES ARE IMPORTANT FOR PROVIDING FOOD. If someone in a household can get food, bring it back to whatever and wherever is home at the time, prepare it, and serve it, a feeling that some part of the family’s routine has returned to normal. This act of preparing and serving food can be very grounding to everyone in the household.
Soup kitchens are wonderful places for people to eat but can’t substitute for pantries. Pantries are cheaper to maintain, for one thing. A soup kitchen staff, needed to prepare the food, serve it, and clean up after each meal, is more expensive than a pantry staff. Soup kitchens purchase napkins, cutlery, etc. Pantries are generally composed of volunteers. Soup kitchens have paid staff. Soup kitchens are absolutely essential for those who have no kitchens or roof at all.
Because of the cost of gas, several families at Motel 19 pile in a car and come over on pantry day. Or, an individual hitchhikes.
THE PEOPLE LIVING IN MOTEL 19 ARE, ON ONE LEVEL, VERY FORTUNATE because a minimum wage worker can easily work more than a week just to pay the rent on a tiny apartment or room.
Not everyone in a low-income household can get into Motel 19. Low-income wage earners are forced to choose between rent, gas, health care, and groceries. Living in this situation means living with hunger on a daily basis.
Motel 19 is a real lifesaver for many people sent over from the Department of Social Services when they’re homeless. Individuals, couples, families. Each household, whether one person or a family, gets one room at Motel 19. The room is furnished with a single bed, a bathroom, a small refrigerator, a microwave, and a TV. The place is a functioning motel so the residents also get clean towels and sheets weekly.
At one time, Motel 19 had a restaurant on the premises but it’s been closed awhile. Word on the street is that a pizza restaurant is coming soon. There’s a car dealership in the parking area outside the front of Motel 19. Shamrock Sales has about five or six used vehicles for sale. No one seems interested in them.
BAD BACK BOB MADE MOTEL 19 FAMOUS FOR US because, when he began coming to our pantry, he spoke about his neighbors and also brought some of them over to shop. This was a real accomplishment because these people, though very fortunate to be living in Motel 19, are trapped without transportation. Motel 19 is located at the intersection of Routes 28, 209, and 87 on the edge of Kingston. Without a bicycle or car, any person trying to get somewhere is looking for a long hike.
Imagine being a young mother with an infant or child trying to get to a grocery store, doctor, or even a soup kitchen for that matter. IMAGINE WALKING DOWN THE HIGHWAY WHERE CARS ARE TRAVELLING faster than 45 miles per hour with this infant or child in your arms. Add rain, freezing rain, or a snow storm.
Bob always thought about his neighbors when he volunteered. He reminded us that not everyone can deal with the bureaucracy of a pantry and he always took some of his three-day allotment of food home, cooked it in his crock pot, and shared it with these special neighbors.
And, Bob is right. On the one hand, our pantry has very little bureaucracy because we never ask for any ID or documentation. We ask only that the person give us his/her name, the number of persons in the household, and the breakdown of seniors, adults, and children. We need those statistics for the monthly Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program report. We’re given our line of credit for food based on these numbers. The more households, seniors, adults, and children, the more food for our pantry.
Even though the pantry has very few documentation requirements, we more than made up for the paperwork with our building guidelines. Everyone, including volunteers, was only allowed in the building during certain times…no exceptions.
When it was time for the shoppers to be allowed in the building, they were invited in five people at a time. The shoppers were allowed to stand in a single file line in the hallway. There were only three chairs available in the hallway and there were typically over fifty people waiting in line. No one was allowed to touch the walls. The wait in the hallway was often over an hour.
PEOPLE CAME INTO THE PANTRY ROOM IN GROUPS OF FOUR. They went around the room in a single file and were in the room no more than three or four minutes. They shopped for a three-day-supply of food which lasted for seven days.
THIS POST SENDS OUT A SPECIAL REQUEST: Motel 19 residents really need pantry services. Walking down Route 28 to get into Kingston is challenging for some and scary for others. Life would be beautiful if some kind souls can open a Pocket Pantry. Or maybe some other pantry in Kingston can send over food every week. Or maybe some mobile food pantry can include Motel 19 in the regular route. Contact me if you have questions.
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Peace and food for all.
“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.”-www.Theweatherchannel.com
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’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 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.
But, that’s not the beginning of the story. My story began in 1996 when Ford manufactured me and sold me to U-Haul. I worked for fourteen years hauling people’s belongings and treasured possessions around the country. I moved people across town and across the nation. What a life. For the most part, everyone was stressed out and worried their things were going to break or their checks would bounce or that the credit card wouldn’t work.
I did my best. I broke down very few times and quietly endured a lot of abuse from overstressed human clients and rental employees.
Finally, in 2012, I was retired. The mechanics refitted me with a new transmission, brakes, tires, etc., and put me on the lot in Kingston, New York, to sell. I sat out on the lot, dejected, rejected, and lonely over the winter.
Then, one day, some men from Woodstock, New York, showed up. What a crew. They stood around, looked me over from stem to stern, asked a lot of questions, and bought me.
But, not before lots of talk and some serious haggling. Three men and two of them named Richard! Can you imagine that? With ALL the names in the world, two of them were named Richard. Guy was the third one. They talked a lot and they touched everything and checked everything. I fell in love with them immediately. They got the price down and I was very excited for them. They were working for me. After months of loneliness on the lot at the rental store, I began to feel useful again…and wanted…and needed.
Sure enough, one day they returned. Richard Allen did most of the talking. They paid the price and off we went. Then, of course, the transmission started acting up and back we went. A lot of haggling continued and finally the Ford people fixed the problem and I was driven over to St. John’s Roman Catholic Church where a special parking place was made just for me. Imagine that!
Then, those three men really got to work. Rich and Rich and Guy did all the paperwork for the insurance, the registration papers, the permits, and everything else anyone could imagine.
And, finally, Rich Spool took me over to Upstate Signs and negotiated with Chester for my sign and now I’m the most beautiful truck in the whole world. Well, maybe not the most beautiful truck in the whole world but there’s a woman that they talk about sometimes and SHE thinks I’m the most beautiful truck in the whole world. Whenever Thurman looks at me, she gets all choked up.
Anyway, soon after we got the sign, a bunch of people came and got trained. Imagine that. Imagine getting trained to drive a U-Haul truck. For over ten years people drove me every day and nobody, absolutely nobody got trained to drive me at all. Now, they all have to have a drivers license, and special insurance, and a training class. Richard Allen does the training. He’s got a fancy title for all the things that he’s doing for me and for the things we do with me. He’s the Truck Master.
Guy Oddo is in charge of keeping track of everybody. He’s also got a title. He’s a Route Master. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m so proud. I’m going out on the road almost every day. But, I’m not carrying furniture and stuff anymore. And the people who ride in my cab and come by to visit when we’re parked are definitely not stressed out.
Now, Rich Allen gets a couple of other people every day and off we go for food. We go to Albany every Wednesday and return to Woodstock completely loaded with food for our local food pantry. Occasionally, when we go to Albany, they get so much food I have to stretch my body to hold it all. Sometimes the truck crew notices and sometimes they don’t. When they notice, they whisper that it’s magic. Well, call it what you want. I’m doing everything I can to help keep the people fed.
Once a month we go over to Kingston to bring back food from the Food Bank monthly shipment. Rich Allen has a special crew and I really have to stretch my sides for this one trip. The Food Bank offloads over 10,000 pounds of food each month and there are several other cars and trucks joining in. I’m so proud to be a part of this pantry. And, of course, all the food gets packed up and goes to the pantry. And, when we get to Woodstock, Thurman is there waiting for the food and she gets all excited. It’s a beautiful day when the food comes over from the Food Bank.
Twice weekly we deliver food to area families and households. We park in each location about an hour. We offer a three-day supply of food to the people who come over to us. But…that’s not all we do.
What we really do is offer a community experience which is completely unavailable in a pantry housed in a building. When we drive up, there’s no shame or embarrassment, no need to hide. Instead, people gather for a few moments in communal conversation and connect with their neighbors. The feelings of isolation so prevalent in a pantry are completely absent.
We’re hoping to offer this experience at other locations in the area.
I’m the happiest truck in the whole wide world. I love my new name which comes from an Old Testament story. And, frankly, I’m hoping they start looking for another truck for us soon. I hope they name her Goddess.
Peace and food for all.T
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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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He was simply one man working for others. He was paid a wage that could barely keep him alive. And he was one injury away from being homeless.” – David Baldacci
On two successive years I formed building committees composed of community leaders. Neither group came up with a workable plan. These committee members knew Woodstock inside and out: the buildings, the land, the zoning limitations. They really didn’t see much hope. The person who came closest to getting us a building was Bob Baker. If he hadn’t gone to Trinidad for the winter that year, I think we would have gotten a building.
As the hallways became more crowded and the lines became longer, the situation in the pantry became more and more difficult for everyone.
Turning the people away was just not a viable option for me. I knew the people had no where else to shop.
So, I began to look for another place. In reality, there was just not another place out there. We couldn’t leave Woodstock because we had shoppers who couldn’t, for whatever reason, go to another town.
As Andrea put it “Thurman, is there a sidewalk from the Woodstock Reformed Church to West Hurley?”(Or wherever the newly found choice might be.)
Besides, the money needed to get a building was, to my way of thinking, unreal. Putting myself in the head of a Woodstock property owner, I saw exactly what was happening. Here was a small town with a problem no one was willing to do anything about. Obviously, a new location was going to happen sometime. If the landlords and building owners could just hold on and “wait us out”, one of them was going to win the lottery and the townspeople were going to pay the bill.
There were several empty buildings in Woodstock.
Peggy Johnson seriously wanted us to have a building.
So, one day, Peggy went into gear. She started looking. She identified the Bearsville Garage, the old Odd Fellows Hall, the Overlook Press Building. Whenever she found something she thought would work, she would call together Rich Allen, Richard Spool, Guy Oddo, and anyone else who would pay any attention to her, and get them to look at it.
The Bearsville Garage was, to my mind, perfect. It had no neighbors close by. People were accustomed to seeing cars parked at this location. the price was lower than that of other buildings. The building was a totally utilitarian structure. However, it wasn’t 100% accepted. There were concerns about the toxins in the buildling left over from the garage business. The fact that other pantries in New York State operated out of old gas stations didn’t seem to compute with this committee.
The Overlook Press building was across the street from the Bearsville Garage. It had a large two-story “home” in the front of the property with space in the rear for parking a truck. There was space for food storage, office space, parking space, pantry. With all of this, there was also an opportunity for rental income from the apartment on the grounds.
And, finally, the Odd Fellows Hall was also available. We were contacted by an organizational representative one day, without warning. Did we want the building? Would we buy the building NOW? Our committee went over to see it, inspect it, and discuss it. We were interested. Richard Spool went over it with a fine tooth comb and pronounced it in good shape.
Our whole process took about three weeks. For a small, nonprofit organization, that was moving at the speed of light.
By the time we were ready to begin to figure out how to get the money together, they had already sold it.
Although I said nothing at the time, I felt their offer was not serious.
And, looming over all of this time period was the realization that these buildings were running in the hundreds of thousands and we had $12,000 in our coffers.
As badly as we needed a bigger space, we simply didn’t have the money.
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Peace and food for all.
One very cold winter Wednesday afternoon, we had a hallway full of hungry people waiting to get into the pantry. Inside the building wasn’t much better than outside and the outside was below freezing.
Prasida was checking in a man who wore only a sweatshirt. “It’s awfully cold in here today for just a sweatshirt”.
“I know” he replied quietly. “I gave my wife the coat.”
One Thursday morning I was in the pantry minding my own business when I noticed a man in the hallway who didn’t appear to be a shopper. The moment I saw him, I sensed that trouble had entered our pantry door.
“Hello. How can I help you?”
“I’m Ed Jabbs. I’m the head of the building committee and I want to see your files on the people who come to use this pantry.”
“I’m sorry sir, we don’t keep many files on our shoppers. We have a journal where we record their names and the number of people in each household. That’s all.”
“Well, you should. No one should be allowed in here who isn’t on food stamps. You’re feeding people who shouldn’t be coming here to get this food. You’re feeding the unworthy hungry.”
“I’ll have to call the Food Bank about getting that kind of information. I don’t have the forms and we’ve never done anything like that before. After all, we’re a Food Pantry, not the police.”
“Well, check into it NOW,” he said as he walked away. Mr. Jabbs smiled then, displaying a mouthful of large yellow teeth.
Although he was a regular shopper at the pantry, coming to shop every week, I considered him to be a volunteer. It was always a pleasure to see him. He had a lot of brown hair that was going grey, wore tortoise shell glasses and he sported a beard. He was intelligent, articulate, respectful, and always brought the latest copy of the newspaper which he published weekly. He wrote the stories and drew the illustrations. His stories covered local news and events in Woodstock.
“Hello Mrs. Greco. Here’s my paper for you this week. Keep it hidden. I don’t want it to get in the hands of the wrong person.” He spoke rapidly. “Rick O’Shea tried to kill me this week. But I’m not going to let him get away with it.”
“I caught him outside the soup kitchen telling lies again. He’s an informant of the FBI and the CIA and he’s spreading lies about me again”.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Yes, he’s involved in the Exxon-Mobil scandal with the Iran Contras. But, he’s not going to get away with it. I’m an ex-Marine and an investigative journalist. I called the FBI on Rick and the whole bunch of them.”
“Good luck. Thanks for coming in. And…I LOVE your newspaper.”
Everytime I saw Paula Gloria in the halls, I ran up to her and hugged her. Paula always visited with her line neighbors, talking with them, finding out their problems, seeing how she could help. Paula helped people who were going through foreclosures or had problems with the police. When Paula had a court date of her own, several of her “line buddies” went to the courtroom and stood with her to offer support. Paula always gave more than she asked for.
Paula invited me to come on her popular public access TV show in New York City. I went down on two separate occasions to work with her. I had a show on Channel 23, the public access TV station in Woodstock. After spending two afternoons with Paula and watching her work, I totally changed the way I worked on my TV show. “Take This Bread” became a much more successful show with Paula Gloria’s assistance and influence.
One shopper, a local woman, always complained of multiple allergies, claustaphobia, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, etc. At every opportunity, Lemon Balm Betty left the pantry and ran around the parking lot yelling loudly “Thurman is a fucking asshole”. Then, one day, she brought in a large bouquet of mint and lemon balm. We put them out with the other fresh produce. Immediately, she smiled, was comfortable in the crowded hallway, and became the wonderful person we all suspected she was, when she hid behind her insults. Offerings of mint came every week during the summer from her.
Ho hum. It was just another pantry miracle. We had them all the time.
Many famous and semi-famous people were reduced to using the pantry regularly after the downfall of 2008. Because Woodstock attracted artists, musicians, and writers, many of them had second homes in the Woodstock area. Some of these creative and talented people saw their incomes totally dry up. I heard stories repeated many times over by different people.
They would, essentially, go like this: the person would have a home in the Woodstock area in addition to a place in New York City or Paris or Dubai or Miami or someplace, anyplace else. As the income dwindled, the person would look around, assess his/her situation and try to unload the most expensive place which was usually in the someplace else location.
Some were able to sublet. Others were able to sell. Still others underwent foreclosure. They came to Woodstock to live in the second home because it was cheaper only to find, in many cases, that there was absolutely zero opportunity to earn any money while out of the city environment.
So, here they were…down and out in Woodstock and Bearsville. Some even experienced foreclosure of the Upstate New York home.
The pantry line was filled weekly with intelligent, well educated, talented people who found themselves stranded because their support system was just not what it should have been. They, for the most part, made the best of it. What else could they do?
The refrain heard in the pantry line was “We gather at the Good Neighbor Food Pantry, where the elite meet.” I would see some of them in the line talking and joking together as they waited for food. What else could they do? Eventually some established new lifelines. Others ended up homeless.
There was always casual talk about diabetes. Many, many people suffered with it. Some families had both diabetes 1 and diabetes 2 in the members. Although I never took a real count, it’s my opinion that way over 30% of the shoppers and volunteers suffered with this terrible disease. Even if we tried to determine the number, it wouldn’t have been accurate because so many people don’t have healthcare. They don’t know what diseases they have or don’t have.
Diabetes is one of the worst diseases a person can have. Many suffering from diabetes develop other diseases also: kidney failure, strokes, and blindness. Bad diet and stress help it move along. There’s no doubt that people in the food pantry line are stressed. Our pantry did everything possible to get the very best quality food to the shoppers. However, it’s difficult to feed a family when there’s insufficient money and the pantry only offers a three-day supply of food which needs to last seven days.
Two neighborhood shoppers visited the pantry weekly. They shopped in the pantry for many years. Dorothy and her daughter Alice lived about a block away. They were a rare commodity in Woodstock: they were from Woodstock.
Dorothy and Alice weighed about 110 pounds together dripping wet. They came into the pantry, selected a few things and then walked away. Although they never got much, I always worried about how they were going to carry the food home because of Dorothy’s advanced age and light weight.
Dorothy and Alice didn’t have a car and there was really no other place for them to shop unless they went to the CVS, Cumberland Farms, or Woodstock Meats. They felt they couldn’t afford Sunflower Natural Foods Market or Sunfrost. For a time they caught a ride to Kingston to the Walmart every other week or so with a relative. After he died, they had no chance to leave Woodstock.
An older woman came weekly to the pantry with a black canvas shopping cart which she always tried to bring with her into the pantry room. Repeatedly, we went over the same routine:
“May I bring my cart into the pantry? I really shouldn’t be doing any lifting.” As she said this, she tugged at her cart to position it in the narrow trail between the shelves and the produce.
“It’s extremely crowded in here today. Please be careful. I’m not even sure you and your cart are going to get through the pantry isle. Please try not to knock over the produce as you go around the room.”
One week she didn’t visit the pantry. The next week, when we saw her, she still had her cart but she looked a little tired.
“I’m sorry I didn’t make it last week. I had a heart attack”.
“If you had called, we would have delivered food to your home.”
“Well, I’m completely out of food so I was afraid to take a chance that you might not be able to find me.”
One thing no one ever discussed in the halls was the past. They spoke about things that happened in the past week or so but never beyond. Whatever happened before the pantry came into their lives was just not on the agenda.
As holidays approached, no one ever spoke about the Thanksvgivings, Christmases, Hanukkahs, Passovers, Easters they had before their lives spun out of control. No one ever mentioned that there wasn’t enough money to get Passover food which was just not available in our pantry. No one ever asked a child what Santa was going to bring.
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“We came closer to understanding the crazy circus logic of the witch-hunt that began.” – Kathy Bates
What a year! 2011 began with Gabrielle Giffords being shot in the head. Gaddafi was killed. Hosni Mubarak was forced from power. Osama Bin Ladin was killed. Hurricane Irene left destruction still not repaired. Our country entered its 10th year in Afghanistan, and unemployment hit 9%.
Meanwhile, in Woodstock, I remember 2011 as the year the building committee
Tried, really tried to get rid of me
Tried, really tried to return to the pre-2008 glory days of 25 shoppers a week
Tried, really tried to get rid of the cardboard
Tried, really tried to get rid of the fresh produce
Tried, really tried to reduce the pantry footprint by reducing the hours available to the volunteers
Tried, really tried to reduce the pantry footprint by reducing the number of volunteers permitted in the pantry at any given time
Tried, really tried to restrict the shoppers’ and volunteers’ access to the parking lot
Tried, really tried to get control of the money that was coming in to the pantry from donations.
They hosted several Inquisitions in July, August, and September to address their displeasure with everything they could think of, item by item. These meetings were attended by Ed Jabbs, Stewart DeWitt, and Barbara Moorman from the building committee. Pastor Bode attended the meetings also. Hatti Iles, Ann King, Mike Lourenso, Marilou Paturel, Karen White, and Jim Dougherty represented the community. I was only allowed to attend because, as the coordinator, I knew a lot about things that were going on which absolutely no one else knew. For starters, I knew the HPNAP rules and the Food Bank guidelines.
We all crowded around a large table in the corner room adjacent to the storeroom. Ed Jabbs sat at the head of the table with the posture of judge and jury. During the meetings he did all the talking for the building committee.
Barbara Moorman and Stewart DeWitt, building committee members, never uttered a sound unless he asked one of them a question. Two building committee members did not attend these meetings: Roger Shultis and Mike Cooter. Too bad for them because these two guys really couldn’t stand Thurman Greco and They would have love, love, loved to have been there. I never quite figured out why they weren’t included.
Certainly Roger Shultis knew a lot about the pantry activities. He spent pantry days in the hall watching everything with a scowl on his face.
Hatti Iles was the spokesperson for the community. Hatti is a local artist, very talented and well known. She practices martial arts, teaching Tai Chi in town. Hatti was very grounded when the situation got aggressive.
Thurman Greco was identified in all cases by Ed Jabbs as the main culprit in all complaints.
THE FIRST INQUISITION
Huge on the agenda at the first inquisition in July was rot and vermin mitigation. They didn’t want produce because it brought bugs, rot, vermin, and cardboard. We had long discussions in which the building committee members discussed their opinions that all the produce coming into the pantry from whatever source was rotten.
Our response was that the produce came from the Food Bank in pristine condition and would not rot if kept cool. Which brought up yet again the problem that we needed more refrigerators which were never going to be admitted in the building: never, never, never. The fact that the Meals on Wheels kitchen across the hall from our pantry had several refrigerators and freezers was not even considered.
The pantry was not, ever, going to get more appliances.
The unspoken words: “We don’t want the pantry feeding this kind of food to these people. The unworthy hungry should go to Kingston. We’re going to do everything possible to stop the escalation of the shopper census. We’re going to do everything possible to reduce the pantry to the point where it’s serving 25 people per week again. You have ruined our pantry.”
The fact that there were no bugs or mice in the food was of no consequence. The presence of produce and cardboard invited these vermin and no argument was able to overcome their stand. Facts had no weight in this inquisition. They just didn’t want me in the pantry at all.
The building committee insisted that we store the produce in plastic bins with tight fitting lids. They demanded that the food be removed from the building on Thursday at the end of the pantry week.
Removing the food on Thursday at the end of the pantry week was certainly fine with me. We were taking the leftover produce to Family and then to the Woodstock Farm Animal Shelter.
Storing the produce in plastic bins with tight fitting lids was not. When produce is stored in airtight plastic bins, it can’t breathe. This speeds up the rotting process. However, I had to do this if I wanted the pantry to remain open.
To make their point, a church member went to Target and bought four of the largest plastic bins he would find to the tune of $150. These bins appeared in the pantry storeroom complete with the receipt for reimbursement. These bins were so large that, when filled with produce, they couldn’t be lifted by the volunteers.
The building committee digressed from the vermin/cardboard issue at the first meeting to establish that the pantry was renting the space by the hour and the value of the space is $20 per hour. We were paying a nominal sum for the rent: $1000 per year. The issue was that everyone needed to be clear that we weren’t paying our “freight”, as my grandmother in Texas would have said. Nothing was ever mentioned about the fact that, for years, the pantry had paid nothing for the space. I had begun to pay the church for the space because I felt the pantry needed to offer money to cover costs such as painting the walls, cleaning the bathrooms.
Offering the church money for the space was a seriously bad idea. We ended up cleaning the bathrooms ourselves and paying to paint the walls. The building committee resented the money because of the amount given.
THE AUGUST INQUISITION
The August inquisition moved right along to insurance issues, fire codes, inspections from the Food Bank, restriction of volunteer access to the building, pantry volunteers trying to identify who was breaking in the pantry and stealing food.
“We spoke with our insurance agent and you need liability insurance with the church co-named. We need a policy in our hands by Monday.”
“This is Thursday afternoon. It’s 4:00 and our meeting isn’t even over yet. How can we do this by Monday?”
“Well, you better do it or your pantry is out of the building. I realize this is problematic for you but we spoke with our insurance agent and this is what we need.”
“We need a fire inspection of the building. We want to make sure your volunteers aren’t breaking any rules in the pantry. Your tables, chairs, and all those people in the hallway are a fire hazard. All those cans and boxes and all that produce might be a fire hazard.”
“There are far too many chairs in the hallway. We don’t want more than three or four chairs in the hallway. Right now you have the hallway lined with chairs for the shoppers. This is a safety hazard.”
We want to know when anyone is in the building. Anytime a Food Bank person is in the pantry, we need to know about it. We want to see copies of all of your inspection reports.”
“I’ll be happy to show you the inspection reports except that I’m not permitted to. The Food Bank considers that information to be confidential. Actually, I’m very proud of those reports. I get the highest score possible on all the inspections.” I used this moment to proudly describe the details of every inspection we’d had, including the surprise visit from the USDA. I was then, and still am, very proud of how our inspections went. I always got top grades.
“We saw a police car outside the pantry yesterday. It wasn’t even pantry hours. What’re you doing?” Jabbs’ voice was raised.
“We’re trying to find out who’s been stealing food from the pantry and the storeroom while the pantry is closed.”
“How dare you call the police! You have no authority to call the police! This building is ours! We decide who calls the police!”
“Well, we have to find out who’s been stealing food. Someone is coming into the pantry and stealing food.”
“No you don’t! If we see a police car here again, you’re outta here!”
For months I had noticed food disappearing from the pantry when it was closed. I tracked the disappearances. Most of the time someone was coming in and getting a can or jar or two. Then, things escalated a bit. One Tuesday, I came in the pantry to find nine cans of green beans missing. Another time I came in to find several jars of peanut butter missing. The culprit had a sense of humor. An empty jar of peanut butter was left as a calling card.
The final issue was the restriction of hours and volunteers. We were told to have fewer volunteers during pantry hours and to be in the pantry only during certain times on specific days.
We never brought up the subject of the food thefts again. We felt if we did that the pantry would be shut down because the only way a person could get into the building, then into the pantry, and remove food repeatedly without damaging the doors, and locks, was by having a key. That made the thefts an inside job. The building committee members all had keys to the pantry rooms.
Our accusations were too close for comfort.
SEPTEMBER BROUGHT THE FINAL INQUISITION.
The agreement that resulted from these meetings brought many changes:
Tuesdays we were allowed in the building from 9:00 a.m. until noon to stock shelves.
Tuesday afternoons were available to selected volunteers to prepare take out bags.
On Wednesday mornings, we could bring in produce from 11:30 to 12:30. We then had to vacate the building until 3:00 p.m. when we could reenter to operate the pantry until 7:00.
Thursdays we were in the building from 2:00 p.m. until the pantry closed at 5:00. We were required to be out of both the building and the parking lot by 6:30 p.m.
On Fridays I was allowed to bring in a small shipment of canned/boxed goods at some point between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. for no more than thirty minutes. I was not allowed to put any products on the shelves.
No food was allowed to be distributed from the hallway on pantry days.
No more than three chairs were allowed in the hallway.
Our shoppers were not allowed to use the handicap restroom.
On one was allowed to lean on or touch the walls.
No one was allowed to sit on or go up or down the foyer stairs. No one was allowed in the foyer at all except to walk through to the hallway.
Nothing was allowed in the entrance foyer or on the stairs.
We had permission to use the length of the hallway. We weren’t allowed to use the hallway from the point it turned toward the remainder of the church.
Church member volunteers were in the building when we were allowed to operate the pantry. They watched activities making sure we didn’t break rules. Some watchers were discreet. Others were obvious, in our faces. One walked up and down the hall, the parking lot and the entrance yard taking photographs and continually talking on the phone to others relaying all of the things we were doing. I was always protective of the shoppers where photographs were concerned but when this happened, I simply did nothing. The situation was too confrontational.
Anyone using the church bathroom (not the handicap bathroom) was to be supervised by a pantry volunteer.
Any pantry inspections required prior notification to the building committee.
The building committee wanted copies of all our paperwork. The building committee wanted to know about every grant received.
I was allowed to store records in the storeroom but not allowed to have an office or perform any administrative functions.
It was good the meetings ended when they did because in July I was a totally upset sweet little old lady trying very hard to do what the Food Bank and the HPNAP people wanted. By September I was eating nails. My attitude was that I would continue to do what the Food Bank and HPNAP wanted and would not provoke the building committee. I followed their rules and promised myself that when “the fat lady sings”, so would I.
I had returned to my Texas roots. My motto was this: “I don’t start the fight but I’ll damn sure finish it.” My family came from very tough stock. We were some of the first settlers in America and then in Texas. My Grandmother was a Deputy Sheriff in Edwards County, Texas, and my father was an attorney who used the word “ethical” everytime he used the word “legal”.
I emerged from the Inquisitions with a mission statement: to inform people about hunger in America by writing about food pantries in articles, a blog, and books. I would produce a TV show on public access TV and put the material on You Tube.
2011 was the pivotal year.
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The 2014 Hurricane season officially began June 1. This information is just so much trivia to many. However, people in the Ulster County pantry world are, of course, a little antsy. It’s understandable. We, those of us who live in this area, haven’t gotten over the last two hurricanes. Mold and rot continue to advance on residential and commercial buildings at a fast clip while funds for repairs and replacements of damaged/destroyed buildings and vehicles have in many instances not yet become a reality. Many left homeless, jobless, and without transportation feel to their bones that nothing is ever going to be done to repair/replace things damaged and ruined.
Some don’t believe another hurricane will pass this way again. After all, two horrendous weather events, each producing floods of Biblical proportions are enough. Right? Reservoir Food Pantry volunteers know what we’re up against. After all, we were the deniers after Irene. We learned our lesson with Sandy and now prepare to feed those affected by the next “big one”-whenever it hits.
Hurricanes are very destructive, often ruining everything in their path. Some people include their lives in the “ruined” category. Sam and Mary lost a home, a job, and a car in Irene. They still live in the area, in a rented shed. They walk wherever they go – including to the Reservoir Food Pantry.
Or, if you prefer, you can get us a gift certificate at the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley. Call 845-534-5344 and donate money to the Reservoir Food Pantry, Agency Number 2539f. That call will get us the most food for the money. Food at the Food Bank is .16 per pound, making a can of soup cost sixteen cents, for example.
If you access the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley through www.foodbankofhudsonvalley.org, the donate button looms large on the right side of the screen. You can’t miss it! Again, please specify your donation goes to 2539f, Reservoir Food Pantry.
And, finally, if you prefer to choose and buy the disaster relief foods you give to the Reservoir Food Pantry, please drop them off at the Olive Town Offices or at the Community Bank in Boiceville.
However you choose to share, none of your donations will be used to pay for rent or salaries. And, most important, this disaster food will be in the hands of the victims before any other food sent in from outside sources.
Peace and food for all.
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“Why should there be hunger and deprivation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific knowhow to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life? There is no deficit in human resources. The deficit is in human will.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
In my quest for clarity about feeding the “unworthy hungry”, I spoke with several knowledgeable people, spent yet more time on computer searches, and read even more.
I made an appointment with the Rev. James Reisner, the minister of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany, located just one block from New York State’s Capital building. I met with him one Friday afternoon on a perfect New York State autumn day. This historic old building on a tree lined street could not have looked more beautiful. The building itself has a rich heritage dating back to the early 1800’s.
The Rev. Reisner’s congregation, while housed in a building very comfortable with our past, is focused on present-day issues and community needs; not only of Albany but also the surrounding area.
Even though he didn’t know me from Adam, Pr. Reisner graciously agreed to see me. We met in the church library, a cozy, bookfilled room just inside the building entrance. He was polite, thoughtful…and very knowledgeable of the Bible. I knew within just a few minutes that I had chosen the right person for advice and information.
He listened to my questions and went to a Bible in the room and turned to 2 Thessalonians 3:10-16 and read from the passage which offered a significant shift in the dialogue.
“For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”
Now, here was a viable argument…finally. He had me on the right track.
When I returned to Woodstock, I put notes together:
According to Dr. Grant Richison, Paul’s team taught that working for meals is a Biblical principal. the rationale was that as some Christians were waiting for the imminent return of Christ they gave up their daily pursuits: jobs. Then, when they ran out of money, they tried to sponge off their neighbors, friends, and relatives.
So, Paul was writing about those who could work but were taking advantage of the graciousness of others. Paul was pretty straightforward here. He was not talking about those who cannot find a job or people unable to work because of disability or illness.
The quotation: “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”
This statement isn’t hard to understand. I submit to you this statement still doesn’t apply to people in the pantry line.
It’s estimated that, in our pantry line, one child in five eats only at school.
Seniors also have problems with sufficient food. One senior in seven does not have enough to eat.
Fully 75% of the people visiting pantries are ‘food insecure’. They lack access, at times, to enough food to go about their daily lives. About one third of people shopping at pantries suffer from very low food security. Many live in rural areas or ghettos where there are no real grocery stores. Their food comes from gas station food markets, convenience stores, and pharmacy grocery shelves.
Many served by pantries experience poor health and lack access to medical care. Easily 50% of pantry shoppers have unpaid medical or hospital bills.
It’s estimated that 10% of the households visiting pantries are homeless. Many of these homeless people have jobs. They simply don’t make enough money to pay rent.
During the summer of 2010, I realized the attitudes of the Building Committee members, some other congregational representatives and volunteers were escalating. I felt pressured.
On one hand, I was trained by, evaluated by, reported to, and inspected by the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, and the Food Bank of Northeastern New York. The people who trained me and evaluated my performance were using guidelines set down by the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP). I was doing everything I was being trained to do. People were getting fed…hungry people who needed food were getting a three-day supply of food which they had to make last for seven days. Some people in the community were beginning to recognize that I was doing a good job.
In the meantime, Ed Jabbs, the chairperson of the building committee of the Woodstock Reformed Church called the Food Bank.
“I’m calling from the Woodstock Reformed Church in Woodstock. I’m calling about the Good Neighbor Food Pantry. Thurman Greco, the coordinator is bringing a lot of fresh produce into our building. We feel that the food is infested with vermin. We don’t want this food in our building. I’m on the building committee and I’m complaining about her.”
I was really in a vise. What did I need to do. Well, for one thing…I needed to get comfortable with the reality
that the town was angry. After all, if my superior at the Food Bank was happy with my performance and the people who shopped at the pantry needed the food, what else did I need to worry about?
So, I needed to do some work on myself…to become more comfortable with my situation and my reactions to wholesale community anger focused at my job performance.
I did two things. First, I scheduled a weekend at Peace Village, a local retreat house having an Anger Management class. Friends encouraged me to not attend this class but it was all I could find that even remotely dealt with my situation. The weekend was transforming. I arrived on a Friday evening in August and met fellow attendees. The class was packed, the room full.
By 8:00 that evening, I learned we were all in the same situation. We were all, without exception, trying to function in a work situation in which a very angry person was extremely unhappy with our performance. We felt that the person unhappy with our performance was being as angry and obnoxious as possible under the circumstances.
As each attendee told why s/he was at Peace Village for the weekend, I heard the same story repeated over and over. Only the setting was different.
“My supervisor at work hates me. She does everything she can to make my life miserable. I feel that I do a good job. Other people feel that I do a good job but she yells and screams at me whenever she sees me.”
“I work in a kitchen. The chef took a knife to me. I know kitchens are tough but this guy is scary.”
This weekend, taught by two very professional women, not only gave insight into our individual situations but taught us about the personality types of those unhappy with our individual performances. I learned how these personalities developed and how these people became who they were in adulthood. Knowledge is power, they say.
The second thing I did was schedule classes with Richard Genaro, an experienced teaching actor in the area. Richard teachess his techniques to corporate senior executives, community activities, actors.
Richard teaches people to cope with bullying.
Richard teaches skills which are inspirational, instructional, therapeutic.
Richard helped me dig deep to find hidden talents I could use in stressful situations in the pantry.
Richard hauled out a huge yellow bat at every class for me to pound on the furniture. He used this technique to release stress.
Whap! Whap! Whap! We could hear the sound of the bat hitting his sofa all over his neighborhood.
Richard, very professionally, never asked for funds to replace his sofa.
I learned how my anger and frustration manifested and how to deal with these emotions. I also learned I was in a good place with my job at the pantry.
“Thurman, are you getting your produce from our Food Bank?”
“Our produce is very fresh and clean. Thanks, Thurman, for serving the fresh produce. Are you purchasing the HPNAP produce?”
“Yes. The shoppers love it.”
“Well, we can’t get any better than HPNAP produce. I sent Mr. Jabbs some flyers and brochures highlighting the need for fresh fruits and vegetables.”
At the end of the summer, my head was in a much better place. I had a better understanding of my job description and how I should react to the attacks.
To the outward eye, there was no real difference. However, within, I was much calmer. Each day that I didn’t hear from Ed Jabbs, I knew from my training that he was terrorizing someone else. While I was sorry for that other person’s plight, I breathed a sign of relief that I wasn’t on his list for the day anyway. In short, I was doing much better in September than I had been doing the previous June.
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“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.