No one goes hungry - BlueStone Press
July 2, 2020
Our towns

No one goes hungry

Multi-pronged efforts to feed families in need in wake of COVID-19 shutdowns


March 16 marked the day one of the state mandated two-week school closure. In addition to the disruption of rhythm, education and the child care resulting from the closure of the schools, there was another difficult side effect, namely the large percentage of children who rely on school breakfast and lunch. But these children would not be going without. Area restaurants sprang into action.

When asked what promoted the decision to step up, Mark Usvolk, co-owner of Lydia's Café, said via email, “Because it is right. When feeling helpless, help others.” Along with Lydia’s café many more restaurants have stepped up to fill potentially empty stomachs. The Stone House Tavern, Benny’s Pizzeria, Cherries Ice Cream Bar and Grill, the High Falls Café, the High Falls Deli, Big E’s Deli and the Kerhonkson Diner have all come forward, pledging that no child will go hungry due to the school closures. Each restaurant has essentially the same directive: Just call or stop in to participate. Sibbie Lemuf (who owns the diner with her husband, Nick) said that when longtime customer Vinny Nigro came in and offered a large donation to provide meals for kids in need that she and her husband immediately agreed to match it. “Every day people are walking in from the community to donate to this fund,” said Lemuf. “I could cry talking about it. It feels great to be able to do this. As of now we can now provide the kids’ breakfast and lunch menu for free for any kid who is need.” 

On a governmental scale, County Executive Pat Ryan announced via tele-conference on March 17 the launching of “Project Resilience,” an Ulster County community fund that will be administered by United Way. Project Resilience seeks to harness the power and dollars of county resources, nonprofit and private sector partners to help individuals and businesses impacted by the state of emergency. Ulster County residents will be able to apply for food and assistance through Project Resilience via an online portal. The portal will field all requests through the appropriate community partners; for example, paying restaurants at cost to prepare and package meals for those who need them. As of the announcement, Ryan had fundraised $2 million of the $5 million goal. In a press release, Ryan said, “Project Resilience is an unprecedented initiative that will allow us to channel the wave of goodwill from across Ulster County to better serve our residents in need.” He continued, “I want to thank the individuals and organizations who have generously stepped up to contribute to this effort, and I want to assure our residents that we are here for you. I continue to be tremendously impressed by the resiliency and generosity of Ulster County. We are showing our state and our nation what it looks like when a community comes together to take care of each other.”

The food pantries have also been working overtime. With (understandable) difficulty getting volunteers and the heightened needs, the Rondout Valley Food Pantry put out a call for volunteers on March 14 stating that need was at an all-time high.  The email sent by the volunteer coordinator urged, “We are looking for anyone who is able and willing to volunteer over the next two weeks to meet this increase in demand. Volunteers are needed during weekday mornings and afternoons. If you are sick, exhibiting symptoms or are in an increased risk category we ask that you please not volunteer!” Rondout Valley Food Pantry president Susan Bruck said via phone, “In cases like ours (who are volunteer operations), we have a lot of retirees who volunteer. Due to the nature of the pandemic, this means that a very large percentage of our core crew cannot be here. Thankfully, we have had many people step in, which has been fantastic. There is just so much to do, and there is just no way we could do it without the volunteers. On March 17 we picked up 7,500 pounds of food from a truck at Hannaford’s. Our volunteers made quick work of it, loading it into a box truck and even their own cars. Within 24 hours all that food has been put away and 250 more emergency bags packed. That’s simply amazing.”

Rondout Valley Food Pantry has clarified that if volunteering is not an option for any reason that they would appreciate the community’s help in spreading the word that donations are needed, including pancake mix, peanut butter, jelly, cereal, and plastic, paper and reusable bags for distribution purposes. Rosendale Food Pantry echoed that statement, posting on Facebook that due to the threat of corona virus all mass distributions of food had been canceled for the month of March. Acknowledging that this puts a large dent in their ability to provide for the community, the Rosendale Food Pantry asked that the community donate whatever non-perishables they can to make up the difference. The community was listening: As of print, the Rosendale International Pickle Festival (which normally donates all of their proceeds back into the community) donated $1,000, with a promise of more if needed.   

To meet demand, the Rochester Food pantry will now be open to Rochester residents only and will provide food once a week, as opposed to once a month. The Rochester Food Pantry said via Facebook on March 18 that they had, in light of COVID-19, adopted some new procedures including social distancing to keep volunteers and patrons as healthy as possible. Additionally, an appointment must be made to participate by calling 845-626-7501. 

The Rondout Valley Food Pantry has been quickly building out new procedures as well and has set up distribution hubs. Monday, March 16, was the first distribution date, and they handed out Kid's Bags/Emergency Bags, which contain three days of food based on HPNAP/Food Bank guidelines, at area firehouses (High Falls, Stone Ridge and Kerhonkson). There is an ongoing distribution site Monday-Friday at the Town of Rochester Youth Commission Building (call 845-626-2115 to arrange pickup).

On March 17, the Rondout Valley School District announced a commitment to feed any child under the age of 18 breakfast and lunch for the duration of the school closure. On the district’s website it announced: “Volunteers from the district will distribute the meals at the following locations: Kerhonkson Elementary – in front of school; Marbletown Elementary – in front of school; High School – loading dock by gym; former Rosendale School/ Municipal Center. Distribution will take place at each of the above locations on each date and time below: Wednesday, 3/18, noon-1:30 p.m.; Friday, 3/20, noon-1:30 p.m.; Monday, 3/23, noon-1:30 p.m.; Wednesday, 3/25, noon-1:30 p.m.”

The Rondout Valley Growers Association has stepped in and launched a GoFundMe aimed to support local agriculture and feed families in need in the process by purchasing food grown locally to community members in need. The RVGA is working with a community-wide coalition that includes the YMCA of Ulster County, Kingston Food Co-op, Family of Woodstock, along with many others. The Rondout Growers Association will be donating an additional 5% of all funds raised. The fundraiser met its goal of $5,000 within the first seven hours of the campaign As of March 18 the fundraiser had raised $12,187. The organizers Katy Kondrat and KayCee Wimbish said via the GoFundMe page that the fundraiser was shared over 1,000 times. The duo stated that “every dollar beyond our goal of $5,000 will go to supporting organizations that are working tirelessly to feed our community members in need. We don’t know when this hardship will end, so we ask you to continue sharing and donating. We are all in this together.”

“The community response to this crisis has been unbelievable,” said Bruck. “I already knew that we lived in a fantastic community because I’ve been doing this for four years, but the outpouring has been beyond anything I could have imagined. Everyone is working together. We’ve had an outpouring of monetary donations. We’ve a huge volunteer crew in from the school district and calls pouring in from the community. Pretty much any time someone shows up with a check I start crying. The truth is, though, the call to arms for volunteer and monetary support is still necessary. We’re doing a lot of work, but there is still much more work to do.”


To sign up as a business for Project Resilience: 

Rondout Valley Food Pantry:  / 845-687-4013

Rosendale Food Pantry: https://rosendalenyfoodpantry.ohttps://rosendalenyfoodpantry.orgrg / 845-658-9385

Rochester Food Pantry: 845-626-7501

RVL Growers GoFundMe: https://rochesterfoodpantry.wordpress.comeding-local-families-and-supporting-local-farms?

Student meals through the school district:





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