October 30, 2020

Labor-led drive-thru feeds hundreds of Saratoga County families

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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food pantry
Caption: Volunteers from the Capital Region's labor and civic community were out in force in support of Friday's regional food bank drive-thru. Photo by Becky Miller.

NYSUT CaresNYSUT Cares and local labor organizations plan another drive-through food pantry Friday, Nov. 20 at NYSUT Headquarters in Latham. Educators and their families can pick up a variety of groceries beginning at 10 a.m. Volunteers are needed for sorting and deliveries beginning at 8 a.m. To volunteer, please contact: El-Wise Noisette at el-wise.noisette@nysut.org or call 518-330-2189.

Friday, Nov. 20. NYSUT HQ, Latham.

  • Sort Time: 8 a.m. - 10 a.m.
  • Distribution: 10 a.m. - Noon

For more information, download the flyer.

One car at a time. One need at a time.

“I’m here for my mom and dad,” said the driver of one car, in a line of hundreds of vehicles waiting to get food this morning at the snow-covered Saratoga County Fairgrounds. Her parents are retired and out of work, and they have health conditions, she said.

“For them to even ask, it’s a big thing,” she said.

Another lone woman driver was a teacher who has had to take a year’s leave of absence. Because of COVID-19 changes preventing full-time in-school classes, and the lack of special needs day care during the pandemic, she had to care for her son with special needs.

“Essentially I’ve lost a year of pay,” she said, the worry lines on her forehead visible over her mask.

To address poverty directly, NYSUT joined with other labor unions and civic organizations to provide a regional food bank drive-thru. Beginning two hours before the first car came through, volunteers filled blue and green cloth bags with a pound of butter, cheese, chicken, sausage, peeled and bagged hard-boiled eggs, milk and orange juice, fresh strawberries, carrots and potatoes. The colors of the fresh goods mimicked the recent bursts of autumn foliage, now mostly fallen and covered in fresh snow. The food was loaded into the gaping trunks of waiting cars, four at a time, providing necessities to families struggling with job loss, fewer hours of work, sickness, and other pandemic fallout.

Bruce Hoffman, president of the Saratoga Adirondack BOCES Employees Association, said the criminal justice program he teaches encourages community service. Today he brought 14 students with him to help with traffic at the food drive, directing the loops of cars winding around the fields in good orderly direction in colorful vests for visibility.

Community Drive Thru Food Pantry - 10.30.20

“Criminal justice and community service go hand in hand. We’re here not to just protect, but to serve,” he said.

“I see the need in my community, and in some of my members,” said volunteer Pamela Malone, putting on a gray and pink NYSUT Women hat to stave off the chill. Malone is a member of the NYSUT Board and president of the United University Professions chapter at Empire State College. UUP is the SUNY higher education union for faculty and professional staff. “Labor is always ready to help the community.”

The Saratoga Area Labor Council, which helped spearhead the food drive-thru, was represented on site by its president Phil Stenglein, a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 83. He said the drive-thru has been in planning stages for about a month, working with the Northeast Regional Food Bank, which supplied the food. He expected today’s bounty to feed 450 families.

“This is the center of my district,” said New York State Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston Spa. “I teared up when I saw the line. It’s a sobering reminder there’s a lot of need.”

“It’s good to have teachers and NYSUT leading the way,” said NY State Senator James Tedisco, R-Clifton Park as he loaded bags of food into cars.

“Two families!” yelled out a volunteer, after talking to the driver of a van. “Five kids, three adults!” Masked volunteers — including New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake — loaded up the appropriate amount of food into the back.

“Good job everybody!” called out Sister Betsy Van Deusen, CSJ, director of special projects for Catholic Charities. Typically, she said, her food and mobile van outreach program sets up shop in the region once a month. But when the pandemic hit, the organization did six in April. Now, she said, they take on nine to 10 a month throughout the 14-county region they serve.

“There are greater needs. People need food,” she said. In one town of 10,000 people, she said, the food pantry is only open twice a month, for two and a half hours each time. It cannot meet the needs of the many more hungry people. People have lost jobs, particularly in the service industry.

At a food drive, people are only asked for the number of people in their family; how many families they are picking up for; and their ZIP code. There is no need for paperwork.

“Imagine how hard it is to ask for help,” she said. “A food drive makes it so it’s okay.” Inside the bags, the teams from Catholic Charities Mobile Outreach Vehicle Extension have placed information about resources for health care, case management, unemployment and more.

Wilhelmina Murray-Davis, director for disaster community services for Catholic Charities, said the normal yearly totals for outreach were reached within one month.

Labor supporters include NYSUT, United University Professions, Saratoga Area Labor Council, CSEA, Saratoga Adirondack BOCES Employees Association, Sheet Metal Workers, and IUE-CWA.

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