Christine Hein is the executive director of People’s Place thrift store and food pantry here in Kingston, the largest food pantry in Ulster County. Though she is married to Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, Christine likes to stay autonomous and independent from the role of “Ulster County’s first lady.” Rather, she chooses to carve out a role in the community for herself. She is energetic as the day is long, a skilled administrator, organized, quick-witted and playful. Did we mention she is quite fond of Christmas?
Carrie Jones Ross: Where were you born and raised?
Christine Hein: Kingston.
CJR: What’s your sign?
CJR: Where do you live now?
CJR: Married? Kids?
CH: Married to Michael and have a son, Mick, who is a sophomore at Coleman Catholic High School.
CJR: Do you have a lot of family here?
CH: I do. My mom lives in Kingston and I see her pretty much every day. I have a brother and sister-in-law that are local and we see each other every week. My other siblings live out of town. I also have cousins and an uncle that are local. I even still have a grandmother who lives here in Kingston. Family is a super-important to me and I am very blessed that I get to be with mine so much.
CJR: Where did you go to school?
CH: Kingston High School and SUNY Cortland.
CJR: Tell me about People’s Place. What is it?
CH: People’s Place is a thrift store and food pantry that was established in 1972 by brothers from Mount St. Alphonsus. Our thrift store helps support our food pantry.
CJR: I didn’t know Mount St. Alphonsus was involved in People’s Place. How did that happen?
CH: Mount St. Alphonsus’ Redemptorist Priests and Brothers started a “mission,” located in a rental storefront at 105 Abeel Street, as an outreach program to disadvantaged families and children in the Rondout area of Kingston. The mission’s initial purpose was to help children with educational disabilities and utilized [the space] as a teaching classroom. Early offerings at People’s Place included classes in reading and mathematics, which were taught by a volunteer teacher from Kingston High School, to help prepare students for their GEDs. Children between the ages of 4 and 14 were offered arts, crafts, Bible study and field trips. The needs of the community quickly indicated that more services in the way of food and clothing were needed. To meet these growing needs, the thrift store and food pantry were created. The seminary students then did referral work to local agencies and distributed food baskets to families in need at Thanksgiving. At Christmas and Easter, parties were held for the children and families. The People’s Place “mission” always had an emergency supply of food and clothing available to be sold or given away. In 1977, in cooperation with Ulster County Social Services, The Food Closet began, which is now known as People’s Place Food Pantry. At this time they were serving 75-85 families per year.
Volunteers became more involved in 1981 to help the Mount St. Alphonsus Redemptorist Priests and Brothers with their mission. In 1985, the Mount St. Alphonsus Redemptorist Priests and Brothers were transferred to Washington and the management of the People’s Place was transferred to 25 volunteers. As buildings were sold, the mission moved several times within the City of Kingston. Finally in 2006, we rented a space at 17 St. James St., our current location.
CJR: How many people come through your doors every day?
CH: In October of this year we had over 3,300 people come into our location. That number is a mixture of people who are in need of food, clothing or would like to shop in the thrift store. By year’s end, we will have provided over 200,000 meals, over 7,000 free articles of clothing and over 50,000 free household items and books.
CJR: How does one “certify” to access the pantry at People’s Place?
CH: The only requirement to use the food pantry is to have proof of residency in Ulster County.
CJR: How many volunteers do you have?
CH: We have 71 fantastic volunteers here at People’s Place. Most are retirees. Currently we are open Monday-Friday from 10-1. We are planning to be open on Wednesday evenings from 5:30-7:30 p.m. starting in January. If anyone would like to volunteer for any of the hours we are open, we definitely need more help!
CJR: How is People’s Place funded? Where do your donations come from?
CH: We are an independent not-for-profit. We are funded by donations that individuals and businesses make to us, by fund-raising events and by the sales in our thrift store.
CJR: Does People’s Place pay rent and taxes?
CH: We have rent, utilities, garbage removal and taxes to pay. Yes, we pay school and general taxes. We do not own the building we are in and therefore are responsible for our portion of the taxes assessed to the building. Just these items alone amount to over $60,000 a year.