Hudson Valley food pantries, banks feeding more in need, receiving more donations – Poughkeepsie Journal

Hudson Valley food pantries, banks feeding more in need, receiving more donations – Poughkeepsie Journal

Geoffrey Wilson
| Poughkeepsie Journal

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As COVID-19 took hold in the Hudson Valley, Richard McKeon recognized a problem.

The Episcopal Church of the Messiah’s Jayne Brooks Memorial Food Pantry typically opened its parish hall to those in need, allowing families to come inside and feel welcome. But with the risk of spreading the disease and newly placed restrictions on indoor gatherings, such an operation just wasn’t feasible.

But, disasters, namely those impacting the economy, have historically increased need for services such as those satisfied by food pantries. So, for most, simply closing and waiting out the pandemic was not an option.

“Within 24 hours, we redesigned the program to allow for social distancing,” said McKeon, rector at the Rhinebeck church. “We switched to drive-in pickup rather than coming into the parish hall, and we limited the number of volunteers in the building to 10.”

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Despite complications from COVID-19, Hudson Valley food pantries and food banks say they’ve managed to adapt to the peculiar year. That’s important, as they also say they’ve seen increased need for food from a broader population, as unemployment has soared.

But, they’ve also seen an increase in the amount of donations, from those who can spare it in a year when need is evident.

And as Christmas arrives, with the accompanying cold of winter, the issues of addressing hunger and food insecurity are paramount.

Community organizer Frankie Flowers said the impact of the pandemic has left all sorts of people vulnerable and at-risk, whether they’re working, unemployed, homeless or otherwise.

“People who could normally provide for their families are struggling just to put food on their plates,” Flowers said. “There’s no way we can just let people go hungry, especially around Christmas.”

This year, the annual Eileen Hickey Holiday Dinners, which served thousands of Dutchess County residents meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas, were canceled amid the logistical difficulties presented by the virus. But, Flowers and the team behind those dinners are partnering to ensure folks don’t go hungry.

Rather than a sit-down dinner, they will be distributing more than 1,200 hot meals and more than 150 food baskets from 29 N. Hamilton St. in the City of Poughkeepsie on Christmas day.

The Eileen Hickey Holiday Dinners team provided the food, which will be prepared at Fuel4Life in the Town of Poughkeepsie.

Requests for meals can be made to Flowers by calling 845-702-5355.

What’s happening in food pantries?

According to a study released this fall from the United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region, 38% of mid-Hudson Valley households do not make enough to satisfy basic living needs or are below the poverty level.

That number, though, was based off data collected in 2018, long before the pandemic forced businesses to close and unemployment to skyrocket; in April the unemployment rate of the Dutchess-Putnam region hit a high of 14.3%, and the 4.9% unemployment rate seen in November, the most recent year available from the state Department of Labor, remained above the 3.5% seen in November 2019.

Jayne Brooks Memorial Food Pantry now serves about 80 households per week, benefitting about 300 people, whereas before previously served 75 households every two weeks.

“We actually expanded our food distribution, thanks in part to help from numerous community organizations pitching in,” McKeon said.

The Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, a branch of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, is expected to provide 22 million pounds of food this year, 6 million pounds more than last year, according to Sara Gunn, director of the food bank.

“What we’ve found is that the people dealing with hunger right now come from all walks of life due to the pandemic,” she said. “And, we don’t see this problem ending with the vaccine. We’re expecting this need to continue through 2021 due to the economic impact of COVID.”

Despite a greater need, Gunn said there has been an uptick in contributions and donations.

“The community has rallied to meat the need this year,” she said.

To ensure the work is done safely, the food bank limits the volunteer workers in its warehouse to 15 people, allowing for ample space.

“Everyone’s trained to wear masks and work as safely as possible,” Gunn said.

Before the pandemic, St. George’s Episcopal Church food pantry in Newburgh would give those in need free reign to pick the food they want. Now, the pantry offers pre-packaged bags of food to reduce the risk of spread, according to Alan Nucifore.

“We’re serving about 70 families weekly,” he said. “The numbers have definitely increased; we used to have about 25 or 30 families.”

Perhaps the biggest issues for the pantry is the weather. The food pantry has moved food distribution to the church’s courtyard.

“Being outside is tough, even for the short time our volunteers are distributing food,” Nucifore said. “Last Wednesday, it was bitterly cold.”

Geoffrey Wilson:; 845-437-4882; Twitter: @GeoffWilson_

Published at Wed, 23 Dec 2020 11:01:52 +0000

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