“When someone’s hungry, they can only think about where their next meal is coming from,” said Emily Sherry, co-owner of the Woodstock restaurant Provisions. “If we feed them, they can start thinking about the situation that prevents them from moving forward.”
On New Year’s Day, Sherry and her business partner, Anthony Heaney, offered the first meal at The Table, a new soup kitchen, now serving free food Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at the Woodstock Reformed Church on the Village Green. Saturday meals will include a bag lunch for Sunday. The Daily Bread soup kitchen, which has been operating for many years at the Lutheran Church on Mill Hill Road, will continue to serve dinner on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with meals at both churches offered from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The Table is an extension of the outreach Sherry and Heaney were known for when Provisions was a tiny sandwich shop and deli on Tinker Street with a pay-it-forward board. Customers would pay for an extra sandwich or muffin to be set aside and listed on the board. People who were unable to pay would come in and claim items from the board. The owners took a number of struggling people under their wing, particularly youngsters with drug problems.
When Provisions moved into the restaurant at the Woodstock Golf Club, there was much more space for cooking and serving, but it was preferred that they not set up a pay-it-forward board. Sherry joined the Daily Bread board of directors, with hopes of expanding the soup kitchen’s service to six or seven days a week. The expansion proved impossible within the Daily Bread’s structure, so Sherry and two other board members decided to create another soup kitchen to supplement the existing service. They set up a 501c3 non-profit and obtained donations of seed money from the community. Support came from town supervisor Bill McKenna and town board member Reggie Earls, as well as Jim Stoothof, deacon of the Reformed Church, where, said Sherry, “people have always been supportive of pay-it-forward and the work we were doing with addiction issues, both financially and in terms of sending people to us. They’re aware of the ways our goals are in concert with theirs.”
She felt the departure of Provisions from the center of town “left a hole that needed to be filled. Daily Bread does amazing work, but prepared food needs to be available more than three days a week.” Daily Bread’s second-floor location presents a problem for people with disabilities, while The Table is on the ground floor. Family of Woodstock, the town’s social service organization, maintains a walk-in center on Rock City Road and a 24-hour hotline, but rarely has prepared food available. A soup kitchen is a boon for people who are homeless or lack a stove, cooking gas, or electricity.
A longer-term goal is to have social service professionals on hand at meals. “Food is the gateway for everything,” Sherry said. “We’re not just asking, ‘Are you hungry?’ but also ‘Why are you hungry?’” She plans to bring in people who can guide patrons to mental health counseling and addiction counseling, or can talk about access to benefits. Many people who need services aren’t aware of SNAP, Ulster County’s food stamp program, or HEAP, which provides money for heating fuel. Other people may not have transportation to reach Kingston to apply for benefits.
The problems are well understood by Sherry and Heaney. “Anthony and I grew up in Accord and Kerhonkson,” Sherry said. “We were both food-insecure as young people, and we were on our own at an early age. My parents separated, and I didn’t go with either of them. It colors your decisions and the way you look at the world. Food is the primary driving force when you don’t have a lot of resources. On Tinker Street, we may not have had much, as a small business, but we always had food. We believe if everyone does what they can do, it makes a huge difference.”
The move to the golf course provided more physical resources and enabled Provisions to expand its menu but left the eatery off the town’s radar. Even people who have grown up in Woodstock are not aware that the restaurant on the corner of Routes 212 and 375 is open to the public. Catering has helped keep the business going, and the restaurant hosts many private parties and memorial services, but people should know they are welcome for lunch Tuesday through Sunday and for dinner on Friday, Saturday, and Monday. On Monday nights, a pub-style menu is featured, plus Celtic music with no cover charge.
Heaney said they are looking forward to having a presence in the town center again. “There are still a lot of addiction problems in Woodstock, and issues that come with homelessness and poverty. The disparity of privilege and money is getting larger, and the chasm is growing. People are becoming increasingly out of touch with each other, based on social and technological issues. Dealing with people face-to-face has gone the way of the dodo bird. Getting back in the center of town will help us get back in touch with people.”
The cooking will be done at Provisions in their commercial kitchen, which is fully permitted and licensed, so The Table will not have to rely on outside food sources, although donations are welcome. Volunteers are needed to help with food pick-up and delivery, setting up and breaking down service, and providing fellowship to patrons. Monetary donations are also sought and can be made through The Table’s website or by cash or check at Provisions. For now, Sherry has decided to avoid applying for grants because of restrictions placed on the use of grant money. “If someone comes in needing a coat or cab fare to Kingston,” she explained, “if we don’t have the right grant structure, we can’t help them. On Tinker Street, most of the money went to food but if someone needed transportation to a Suboxone appointment, or a hotel to be safe for the night, we could help them out. For now, we’re going fully on donations. I believe the community will support us as they did on Tinker Street.”
Assistance has already been forthcoming from sources such as Erin Cadigan, who designed the website pro bono, and Ken Schneidman, designer of the logo, also pro bono. Three former Daily Bread board members have joined The Table: Kate Camara as Director and Volunteer Coordinator, John Mocarski as Vice President, and Michael Holt as Treasurer. Heaney is President of the board, and Sherry serves as Chief Operating Officer.
At the opening on January 1, The Table fed 30 people a meal of beef stew with vegetables, focaccia bread with butter or peanut butter and jelly, spring mix salad, and cupcakes. Sherry said, “Everyone really seemed to enjoy it.”
The Table is serving free food from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, at the Woodstock Reformed Church on the Village Green. The Daily Bread soup kitchen is open from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the Lutheran Church on Mill Hill Road. For more information on The Table, or to donate or volunteer, visit www.thetableatwoodstock.org. The public is invited to lunch and dine at Provisions, located at the corner of the Woodstock Golf Club, 114 Mill Hill Road. See www.provisionswoodstock.com for details.