Feeding the Community: The Work of Hudson Valley Food Pantries | General Food & Drink | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Feeding the Community: The Work of Hudson Valley Food Pantries 

For some Hudson Valley residents, eating is all about choice. Unfortunately, for lower-income residents, the choice is whether or not to pay their rent or buy food to feed their families. Thankfully, there are many food pantries in the Hudson Valley that can make the choice a little easier for these hungry residents.

“People who come to food pantries are your neighbors or the people you go to church or school with or work next to,” says Ron VanWarmer, program manager of the Family of Woodstock food pantry.

The Family of Woodstock Crisis Hotline food pantry has been open every day for nearly 40 years, providing three days of food per month for approximately 65 families.

  • Photo by Salvation Army USA West

“We don’t turn anyone away and we don’t ask about income,” says VanWarmer. “If someone comes in and asks for food, they probably need it."

In collaboration with the Rondout Valley Growers Association’s Farm to Food Pantry Program and Family of Woodstock, UlsterCorps volunteers help out with weekly gleanings at local farms throughout the growing season.

"We have walk in coolers at sites throughout Ulster County, including one here in Woodstock, which we share with local Food Pantries which typically don't have enough storage on site," VanWarmer says. "As part of that program we prepare and freeze local produce like corn, peppers and broccoli, make apple sauce and tomato sauce. This enables us to continue to distribute local produce to Ulster County food pantries, shelters and feeding programs throughout the winter months."

  • Photo Courtesy of Steve Gessner
The Pleasant Valley Ecumenical in Pleasant Valley, which opened back in the late 1970s, serves about 80 families per month and food pantry director Steve Gessner says that number is growing, especially the number of children. “Many people still believe that those who need food are down and out and homeless, but that’s not true,” he says. “Many people we serve work multiple jobs, but with the increased price of food and the cost of living in general, they can’t afford to buy groceries.”

The Pleasant Valley Ecumenical food pantry opens its doors every Wednesday night, serving the Pleasant Valley, Hyde Park, Arlington, and Poughkeepsie areas, but will not turn anyone away. “People who need food are at a place where they’ve lost control of their lives, so rather than just give them a random bag of food they may or may not eat, we work with them to choose what they need,” he says.

Gessner remembers one young man who stopped by several times. “He was living in his car, but couldn’t go to the homeless shelter because of his dog,” says Gessner. “We gave him food and food for his dog and a list of places where he could go with the dog. Several months later he got a job and found a place of his own.”

  • Photo Courtesy of Steve Gessner

Some people who show up at the pantry for the first time are scared. “They think society is judging them because they have to ask for food, but we’re in the business to give food away,” says Gessner, who provides patrons with enough rations for about five days. “We are an extreme need to help supplement what they might have and help them get back on their feet.” About 60 percent of their families are repeat business.

  • Photo Courtesy of Steve Gessner

In Sullivan County, Brian Meade says his branch of the Ulster County Community Action Committee office is getting busier and busier. Since November, 2018 the pantry has helped provide food to approximately 400 families. 

“Sullivan is oversaturated with people in need, including single parents and a huge homeless population,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of jobs here in and many people don’t have the transportation they need to get to a job.”

The pantry provides patrons with three days of food that includes canned meat and vegetables as well as fresh potatoes. The Ulster County Community Action Committee also provides a once a month mass distribution of leftover foods from the regional food bank.

Many pantries in the area also provide other programs for those who need services, including clothing and transportation assistance and farm stand distribution. They are all in need of volunteers as well as monetary, perishable and non-perishable food items, and hygiene donations. 

“A lot of people like to do food drives, but the reality is that we get a lot of the food from the food bank and can stretch our donated dollars farther there,” says VanWarmer.

For more information or to find the nearest food pantry near you, visit https://foodbankofhudsonvalley.org/.

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