December 22, 2021- Caring in the Time of COVID

Hello, everyone out there in Donor Land. It’s me, the guy with the wrench and the mop.

I wanted to do a so-called “highlight reel” of the great things the Food Pantry provided its neighbors in 2021.  But we didn’t do them.  You did.  You did it with your donations of food and dollars, big and small.  You paid for the meal; we are the wait staff.

Since I work principally inside, it only made sense to ask the forward-facing volunteers who deal directly with our neighbor clients every Wednesday morning to share with you what they saw and felt this year, and list the highlights of FP 2021.  Here goes.

***

The number of neighbors we served peaked this year on April 28: 175 Families representing 623 Individuals (341 adults, 221 children, 61 seniors).  That was a five-fold increase compared with the average of 35 families we were serving in March 2020 when New York confirmed its first COVID-19 case.

“The number of volunteers also increased, and we were amazed at the caliber and dedication of the people who have shown up week after week to help feed the hungry with dignity and respect.” – Molly Rodriguez, co-founder of the FP and its director for 10 years, retired on April 28th and was succeeded by Vera Halpenny and Gretchen Skaggs as co-directors. 

Things got bad quickly in our service area among those who lost jobs, most especially day workers, restaurant employees and single parents.

In May and June, Dr. Nitin Gupta of Rivertowns Pediatrics, set up a clinic at the Pantry to administer first COVID-19 vaccines to a total of 28 clients who registered for the shots through the FP, and second shots six weeks later.

“I remember chasing after a client to make sure she got the second dose of vaccine from Dr. Gupta … We should really celebrate him for running the vaccine clinic considering everything else he does for the community,” – Ellen Crane, chair of SPRING Community Partners.

Children on average represent about 35% of the Dobbs Ferry client population.

“When our youngest clients, toddlers and preschoolers, ask me if they can take a small carton of milk or an apple, and are thrilled to receive it, I know that finally I’m in the right place at the right time.” – Kimberly Janeway.

“I love when handing a holiday cookie to a child, or gluten free bread set aside for a client who has dietary needs, they recognize that they are not just clients. They are friends and family to us.” — Donna Assumma.

As the year wore on, our fundraising efforts intensified to keep up with skyrocketing expenses.  Neighborhood food drives became more common.  Churches and synagogues were particularly large volume collectors of shelf-stable food, as was our neighborhood Stop & Shop supermarket on Broadway.

“What amazed me in 2021 was the sheer imagination of some of our donors.  Four-year-old Harry Greenberg raised $85.68 with his friends through the Share Your Wish Foundation.  Deborah Fantone asked her friends to donate loads of diapers to the FP rather than spend money on birthday presents for her.” – Anonymous (not his real name).

A large percentage of regular volunteers are seniors and look forward to the summer months when teens on vacation from high school volunteer their time at the FP (and do the heavy lifting).  They all appear to be above average, inventive and often hilariously funny.

One gentleman said it was a pleasure to find an organization for the unemployed middle class. Another client was grateful to the “young ‘uns” when we had the teenagers assisting them (during the summer). – Enzina Zaino.

“(Another) highlight for me would be rounding up so many teens to help last spring before they had to go back to school in-person in April.” – Ellen Crane, who ran what volunteers referred to as “Crane’s Impressment Gang.”

But a Food Pantry is about getting food to people who really need it.  Under the watchful eye of Eileen Quinlan, our Sorter-In-Chief, we are responsible for checking the condition and expiration dates of all donated food.  Anything opened is discarded, as are prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs.  The weekly haul sometimes yields surprises (a half full bottle of bourbon, for example) or a food product that no one on hand can identify.

“Every week Mark (Robinowitz) and I play games at the Freebie Table. We study the offerings, which can vary from the ordinary to the unusual (chocolate-covered insects, dried seaweed) to the sublime (Manuka honey). As each neighbor approaches, we present the item or items we think they’ll love best. Once in a while, if we have something that just isn’t moving, we’ll see which of us can ‘sell’ it first. I’m frequently surprised at how open to new flavors or cuisines some of our neighbors are.” – Ellen Klein, Resident Gourmet.

“I enjoy it when clients share their recipes and cooking techniques or otherwise let us know what they intend to do with the raw materials that we are privileged to offer.” – Bill Constant, who reportedly eats food daily.

“The thing I like most about the food pantry is that it reminds me of a farmer’s market. We all work together in our various roles to create a pleasant outdoor “shopping experience” for our clients. At the bread table, we talk about our favorite breads and pastries and why we like them. I can relate when someone says “no” to bagels, and “yes” to a bear claw. I enjoy seeing the same faces week after week. When I am at the pantry, I feel like I belong to a big hearted small-town community.” — Roubi Eliopoulos, volunteer since September

Though our neighbor clients are not shy about offering it, no one here is looking for anyone’s gratitude. And they would not be able to pick out of a lineup most of those volunteers who labor behind the scenes on filling boxes, produce bags, and cleaning, and moving inventory.

“My highlight was easy.  One day we’re sorting through a mountain of food donations when in marches this Girl Scout Troop (2305) and hands each of us some cookies and a hand-drawn “Thank You” card.  I still have mine on the refrigerator at home.” — Anonymous (Yeah, him again).

Just for the record, this past Wednesday before Christmas we served 104 families including 31 deliveries.

Our Christmas Week ended with another highlight.  Lisa Bai, a volunteer on the Tuesday night Produce Team, delivered fresh whole chickens for our clients, something we had ordered but ended up receiving free along with a cash donation from a mysterious organization called “Friends of Lisa Bai.”

So, that was 2021. Before you go to sleep tonight, give yourselves a pat on the back for these things your donations achieved for your most vulnerable neighbors as we get ready to answer the bell of COVID-19, Round Three.  And remember: we’re not only Americans, we’re New Yorkers.  We can do this.

And Happy New Year.

This week’s newsletter written by Duke “I can fix that!” Coffey.

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