January/February 2021 Issue
December 21, 2020

Union food drives fill in the gaps

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
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One car at a time. One need at a time.

The cars wound around corners and orange cones. Each car had its trunk popped up, waiting to pick up food.

Two large-scale drive-thru food pantries and several small ones sponsored by NYSUT and other labor, religious and civic organizations helped more than 1,000 families.

Local unions have also held regional food drives on Long Island and in Rochester.

“I’m here for my mom and dad,” said the driver of one car waiting to get food at the snow-covered Saratoga County Fairgrounds. “For them to even ask, it’s a big thing.” The Saratoga event fed 450 families. The next drive-thru, held at NYSUT headquarters, fed 900 families — many of them out-of-work educators and school staffers.

A local school bus driver who was without her job from March until September was in line for her family and a neighbor.

One man lost his job due to the pandemic. His unemployment is due to end Dec. 26.

While drivers waited, volunteers loaded boxes of frozen chicken, lettuce, potato salad, potatoes, eggs, oranges, brussel sprouts, sausages, and fresh fruit.

“Schenectady lost 440 staff, and Albany lost more than 200. This is for them, and for members of our community in need of food,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta, dropping frozen chickens into the boxes. “It’s powerful and inspiring.”

Sonya Flowers, president of Albany Public School United Employees, stood in solidarity at a drive-thru food pantry that she helped set up at the Albany Labor Temple with NYSUT. More than 100 of her members have been laid off: home-school coordinators, maintenance workers, teaching assistants and hall monitors.

“They’re angry this has happened,” she said as a car drove up for food and co-workers shouted greetings.

NYSUT worked with the Regional Food Bank and Catholic Charities to stage the drive-thru pantries in Latham, Schenectady and Albany, coordinating with the Schenectady Federation of Teachers, Albany Public School Teachers Association and Albany Public School United Employees.

“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.

The food and mobile van outreach has been setting up 10 events a month in a 14-county region — up from one a month — providing resources for health care, case management, unemployment and more.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango, Secretary-Treasurer Philippe Abraham, and Second Vice President Ron Gross, loaded food into boxes in the morning hours before the food drives opened.

One teacher waiting for food had to take a year absence to care for her son with special needs because COVID-19 has prevented access to both full-time in-school classes and day care.

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

“I see the need in my community, and in some of my members,” said volunteer Pamela Malone, NYSUT Board member and Empire State College chapter president for UUP, the SUNY higher education union for faculty and professional staff.

“Labor is always ready to help the community.”

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