Last Tuesday, the Rev. Darlene Kelley, pastor at Clinton Avenue Methodist, was lauded by the Hudson Valley Regional Food Bank with its Award for Outstanding Achievement for her work to help feeding Kingston’s hungry. Kelley operates the Caring Hands soup kitchen and food pantry in her church each week from Monday through Friday, serving about 1,500 meals per month. Recently, Caring Hands expanded the parameters of her church’s food pantry with the installation of food pantries in the Governor Clinton and Yosman Tower senior housing complexes.
The Food Bank held its annual reception Thursday night in the warehouse in Cornwall-on-Hudson. Ron VanWarmer, food bank assistant associate director said, “I met [Kelly] about a year ago on a panel together.” He said, “I heard her story, how she came to Kingston. No one expected her to be there very long. What they did not know about her was that she was a tenacious woman.”
VanWarmer said he has visited the soup kitchen and food pantry, and has a highly favorable opinion. “I think it’s an amazing place,” he said. “The whole church. The soup kitchen, food program, legal clinic — all of that is amazing — especially considering it’s in a church which in 2004 had a congregation of 10 … If 10 more people had left her church she would have been preaching to empty pews.”
Last year, the food bank distributed over 10 million pounds of food, with most donations coming from Wal-Mart, Sam’s Clubs, BJ’s, Target, C&S Wholesale Grocers and farmers in the HudsonValley. Caring Hands itself doles out over one ton of food per month, Kelley estimated. The soup kitchen has been in operation since the late ’80s; Kelley started the food pantry in 2005. The food pantry’s goal is to give two to three days worth of food. In the first three months of 2013, Caring Hands food pantry gave away 700 boxes of food.
As has been repeatedly heard all over the region since the Great Recession began in 2008, Kelley said lately Caring Hands has been serving those with increasing difficulty stretching their paychecks out until their next. “We have a lot of working poor who cannot make ends meet,” said Kelley. “That’s been the greatest change in the past few years as the nation struggles economically. It puts pressure on the working poor, and the underemployed.”
Kelley blames the loss of trade jobs, and feels deep concern for “big box” chain stores which promise employment but do not pay a living wage. “So a [big box store] is coming in, and that’s going to create jobs, but it is not enough money to support a family,” said Kelley. “As multinational corporations begin to gobble up the world, we make that divide between the haves and have not even greater. Especially as skilled labor jobs go away.”
Kelley said she manages to reach the masses through GED classes, free legal clinics, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, “Big Book” AA meetings, and year-round life skills workshops. “We are trying a ‘wholistic’ approach to mission,” said Kelley.
“[Kelley] is incredibly, incredibly amazing,” said Diane Reeder of Queen’s Galley, a former award recipient as well. “Nothing ever seems to slow her down or have a negative impact on her. She always finds the bright side of everything. Every day you are exposed to things that can bring you down, and yet she always stays up and uplifts people. Every chance she has, she connects with people.”
Reeder cited “patience, dedication and unwavering dedication” as being key traits to stay on the scene day after day. “The whole thing of being recognized by your peers is such an affirmation. Every day you wake up you’re making a choice to make someone else’s life better. In [Kelley’s] case, she makes a lot of people’s lives better. And then to know that you have the recognition and affirmation of the work that you’re doing.”
In addition to Kelley, “volunteer extraordinaire” Barbara Thompson-Fix and Paul Tesoro who has served on the food bank’s advisory board and the board of directors of the food bank for many years, were also recognized.
For information on how to donate to Caring Hands, contact the church at (845) 331-7188. The pantry needs using nonperishable foods with nutritional balance but easy to prepare, such as peanut butter, tuna, macaroni and cheese, pasta and sauce, canned fruits and vegetables. Kelley added that diapers and personal care items are in great demand since food stamps do not cover their purchase.