The cars began lining up at NYSUT about 8:30 a.m. today for a food drive that began at 10 a.m. with enough supplies to feed 900 families — many of them out-of-work teachers and school professionals.
One of those professionals: A local school bus driver who was without her job from March until September.
“There was no school. We were out of work. It’s good to have free food,” she said. She was picking up food for her family, and for a neighbor with a family of nine.
One driver lost his job due to the pandemic and has been on unemployment that is due to end Dec. 26. He was there to pick up food for his household, as well as elderly neighbors who used to supplement their income with substitute teaching and playing jazz gigs before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“It’s been really rough for myself and my family, as well as neighbors,” he said, shifting into “drive” as his car was motioned forward.
Another driver waiting in line said he has been furloughed for eight months, so his household has one less income.
“I’m waiting on the stimulus,” he said, shaking his head.
While they waited in their cars, vans and trucks, volunteers continued to load boxes. Each one held a roaster chicken, fresh lettuce, potato salad, orange juice, two cartons of eggs, fresh Brussels sprouts, grated cheese, plump purple grapes, a bag of oranges, sausages and a bag of potatoes.
“Right here in the Capital Region, we’ve had staff laid off in our own backyard of headquarters,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta, as he dropped frozen chickens into the boxes. “Schenectady lost 440 staff, and Albany lost over 200. This is for them, and for members of our community in need of food.”
Behind him was a wall of boxes holding 1,400 chickens and alongside him were volunteers packing food item by item into waiting boxes.
“It’s powerful and inspiring,” Pallotta said.
NYSUT worked with the Regional Food Bank and Catholic Charities to stage the main food drive-thru event, which was boosted by more than 100 volunteers from labor, churches and NYSUT staff. AFL-CIO, Public Employees Federation, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Professional Staff Association, Legal Staff Association, and CWA were among the unions represented.
Following the morning event at NYSUT headquarters in Latham, three more union food drive-thrus were held for laid-off educators and School-Related Professionals in Albany and Schenectady, in coordination with the Schenectady Federation of Teachers, Albany Public School Teachers Association and Albany Public School United Employees.
Bill Ritchie, retired teacher and president of the Albany County Central Federation of Labor, spent a few hours loading boxes at NYSUT Friday morning, as he has at many other recent food drive-thru events.
“When you come to these events you load as many cars as you can,” he said. “The tragic part is you see cars still trying to get in after the food has been distributed and you begin to realize how serious this situation really is.”
The labor council has been very active making sure the drive-thru pantries are well stocked, he said. “We understand the seriousness of the problem. I’m outraged there is no stimulus.”
“All of us need to do what we can … and that little thing is going to change the world,” said Sister Betsy Van Deusen, director of community partnerships for Catholic Charities.
Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary-treasurer, said he has been speaking with colleagues in Rochester struggling with layoffs there.
“We’re all about helping our community where we live and work,” he said.
Wearing a brightly colored safety vest and a mask, NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango spoke to the driver of each car to gather ZIP code and number of family members to help track need. Prior to that task she spent a few hours loading containers of orange juice into each box.
Ron Gross, NYSUT second vice president, hustled around the parking lot staging area, staffing a table to drop food into boxes, and then lifting boxes into waiting trunks.
Volunteer Felicia Kuhn, CWA 1118, is part of the local Kate Mullany chapter of the Coalition for Labor Union Women, which brought helpers to the food drive.
“There’s so many of our union brothers and sisters who’ve lost spousal income,” she said. “I wanted to help out.”
Retired NYSUT CWA staffer Mary Bates, along with Dorothy Brown and LeRoy Twiggs all came to volunteer as part of service with their local Baptist churches. They follow the Catholic Charities community outreach program.
“You do it once, you come back,” said Brown. “There’s a lot of hunger and a lot of uncertainty.”
Video via WTEN.
How to Stage a NYSUT Food Drive
- Order 24 pallets of food from the Regional Food Bank.
- Enlist 125 volunteers.
- Get cardboard boxes
- Make a lot of phone calls
- Set up folding tables
- Draw arrows in chalk across parking lots
- Direct the traffic
- Enlist the help of the Colonie police
- Work with other unions, labor councils, churches and Catholic Charities
- Set up outdoor assembly lines of volunteers to put food into boxes for each family
- Stack the filled boxes in four spots where cars stop.
- Line up staff leaders Jim Larson, El-Wise Noisette, and Alithia Rodriguez-Rolon to help organize the event.