The numbers are staggering in regard to hunger in America, far above what may have been expected a mere decade ago. The startling extent to which poverty-driven hunger has eaten into our society is a familiar topic to Woodstock’s Thurman Greco, who helped found the Reservoir Food Pantry in Olive, which celebrates its first anniversary on Tuesday, September 9 with an “All Are Welcome” open house at the corner of Routes 28 and 28A [4073 Rt. 28] behind Roberts Auction in Boiceville. Light refreshments will be served.
“The need for food pantries is incredible,” declares the Texan-born Greco, pantry coordinator and author of a book, Hunger Is Not A Disease, about her own experiences in serving free food to struggling segments of the public, and another about spirituality and health, Reflexology For The Spirit. “One child in seven, now, eats only at school (in the School Lunch Program),” she says. “46 and a half million people in this country are using food pantries out of need. Twelve million are children and seven million seniors on fixed incomes who are not getting enough to eat. Housing, medical and transportation expenses are all up. People have enough money to buy gas, get to their jobs and anything beyond that, they don’t have.”
Jobs? Yes, Greco is firm on dispelling myths about the character of those who now find themselves reliant upon food charity. Crossing out false images of recipients from personal experience with them, she observes, “I submit to the world that, in most cases, these are not irresponsible parents. You have a lot of families where people are working two or three jobs and still cannot make ends meet. After the economic plunge of 2008, job loss from off-shoring and technology, poverty wages; after rent, mortgage, insurance, car and home fuel expenses, rising food prices can be out of reach for a family.
“In this area, after Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene, some people lost everything and haven’t been able to get resources together in this economy to recoup past living standards. There’s a young woman who comes to the pantry on a regular basis who does gardening, housecleaning, whatever she can. She was completely wiped out in ‘Irene.’ Someone gave her a car they were trying to get rid of and she drives this junk heap around. What people are doing to survive is incredible. This is life in the 21st Century.”
Many urgent and complex economic questions tie into this situation for which space does not permit an examination but Thurman Greco has pondered them deeply.
Greco, whose experience with food pantries dates to 2005, credits songwriter-producer Sean Bigler with kickstarting the Reservoir Food Pantry when he came to her while she was co-ordinating the Good Neighbor Food Pantry in Woodstock. Noting that GNFP was well organized, with all systems in place, money in the bank and, of course, lots of food during her several years there, she added “I had had people coming to me about going to different communities to start pantries for several months prior to that. I was so taken with his attitude and sincerity about starting one in Olive, I said ‘Fine. I’ll do it!’ Just that simple,” she said with an energy which belies her 70-plus years.
She began training volunteers at weekly sessions as Bigler wrote grant applications (501c3 status was granted this August) and it was started quickly. Bigler and his wife, performance artist Bonnie Lykes, “put 110 percent into it” and both now serve on its board of directors. Early on there was a robust search for a place to operate from until, following an announcement of the need at a town board meeting, “the people who manage the wastewater treatment plant (in Boiceville) stepped forward and volunteered their parking lot, which has worked very well. We’re still there.
“Then, as it was beginning to grow, we realized soon it’s going to be cold and we won’t be able to do this outside much longer,” Greco continued, describing how a shed was added on Beecher Smith’s property in front of the water plant at Roberts Auctions. Bigler questioned John Parete at the Boiceville Inn, if any space was available there for storage.
“He didn’t hesitate a blink,” Greco said. “He and Beecher; people in Olive; none of them skipped a beat. Anytime we have asked them for anything, they have come through. It’s an amazing thing in this small community, when you think about it. They could have said ‘No, we don’t have time for you’ or a dozen other things but, in all cases, they smiled, said ‘yes,’ shook our hands and they gave. It’s beautiful. We’re very grateful.”
Some 50 to 60 households come for provisions every Monday afternoon between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., a number expected to grow as word gets around. Most of the activity at this time involves deliveries to homebound people on Tuesdays and Fridays. It’s a positive alternative to the 79 percent diet of cheaper, unhealthy food many resource-challenged shoppers buy, Greco boasts, because it’s largely fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads from Migliorelli Farms, Shandaken (community) Gardens, Bread Alone and other well-respected, nutritionally conscious sources.
“So, when we bring out the oranges, onions, potatoes, apples, they are literally diverted from the landfill,” said Greco with the faintest trace of her “Peace and food for all” drawl lingering from younger days. “This is all food which, for whatever reason — misshapened, too big, too small, didn’t look right — was rejected at the grocery store, wholesale house. When I look at this food, I realize we are salvaging what would have been expenses for the dumpster and landfill expenses and we are feeding people; keeping people from starving on the streets…and this is not a dramatic overstatement.”
Volunteers are needed to drive food to homebound residents. Call 845-399-3967 and donations are welcome at Reservoir Food Pantry, P.O. Box 245, Boiceville, NY, 12412