“Here’s how the conversation usually goes,” explains Emily Sherry, CEO of The Table at Woodstock, her nascent no-cost prepared food program accessed via the side door closest to the parking lot of the Woodstock Reformed Church on the Village Green. “You’re doing 1,000 meals a month? Where are you bringing all these people from — Saugerties? Kingston?”
Sherry says they’re coming right from our community, estimating that Olive is the furthest folks have traveled to the church’s community room for The Table’s hot meals. But she and Anthony Heaney, co-owners of Provisions, their restaurant and catering business located at the Woodstock Golf Club, expected to be serving only about half that volume when they opened The Table one year ago.
Now, in addition to offering dinners from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, they pack bag lunches for their guests to enjoy on Sunday, thereby feeding members of the community on days the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen is closed. The Daily Bread also serves their meals from 4 p.m.-6 p.m., on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons in the Fellowship Hall of Christ’s Lutheran Church, 26 Mill Hill Road.
“This work has been eye-opening to me,” Sherry says, over a backdrop of banter last Thursday night at The Table. “People can eat here or take the food to go. But the people who stay enjoy each other’s company. They have meaningful conversations, share resources, and talk about the next steps.”
The Table’s philosophy is that to better address the issue of food insecurity, organizations like theirs need not only to feed their guests but to empower them with what they call “wraparound services” like sharing information on health insurance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps), housing resources, mental health care, and addiction counseling. All are central among the topics that take place around The Table.
“Food is the gateway because you can’t think about anything else when you’re hungry,” Sherry says. “You can’t think about getting to the doctor, filling your oil tank, or doing your homework. All of those things are impacted by hunger.”
A cheerful oversized painting with a banner that reads “Neighbors feeding neighbors” is a bright note in the church’s otherwise beige-on-beige dining room. Sherry explains that it was a gift from a guest who ate there for a year with her grandchildren. “She said that having a safe space to come with them, coupled with the warmth she found here, changed her life.” Sherry notes that it’s not unusual for “the generation in-between” to go missing at The Table due to parents who may be dealing with addiction issues.
Helping their guests pay for suboxone prescriptions, gas cards, or cabs to get to a shelter comes with the territory, according to Sherry. At Provisions, where The Table’s food is sourced and prepared, they also collect personal hygiene products and gifts of warmth: hats, gloves, and especially socks. “Dry socks are essential in winter,” she says, citing pneumonia, and what she sees as the need for a warming shelter in the community. On Saturdays at The Table, it all goes onto — what else — a table, with clients taking what they need on the honor system.
Sherry only sees the need for their services growing. Starting in April, a Trump administration rule change would make non-disabled adults ages 18 to 49 who do not have dependents ineligible for SNAP benefits if they are not working at least 20 hours a week. By the administration’s count, approximately 700,000 people will be dropped from the program.
The Table is now on the lookout for a commercial kitchen. In the past year, Sherry says she’s had to turn down donations of fresh produce due to the lack of storage space. Securing a standalone kitchen would not only be more efficient but also allow her to “bring in all the incredible resources out there,” from places like Hudson Valley Farm Hub, Sky High Farm, and other farm-to-food pantry growers. What’s more, it would position them to serve other area villages, such as Phoenicia, Wawarsing, and Kerhonkson.
On the night of our interview, buffalo chicken is on the menu. “Every meal has a starch, meat, vegetable, home-baked dessert, coffee, juice, and fresh focaccia from Provisions. It was essential to me to offer fresh bread,” Sherry says, sounding justifiably proud, and adding, “The Table could not exist without Provisions.” Sherry and Heaney donate not only food, but also the time spent and the utilities consumed in preparing it. “That’s a commitment we made in starting this,” she says. But as a new nonprofit, her goal is for The Table to increase its funding level so it can stand on its own two feet. “If something happens to me, The Table needs to be self-sufficient.”
To that end, Georgene Fredericks, the Branch Manager of Woodstock’s Mid-Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union, nominated The Table in December 2019 to be a recipient of their 12 Days of Giving program, resulting in a $1000 donation. The Table has also received a grant from the Hudson Valley Foundation for Youth Health, and significant financial support from Woodstock businesses H. Houst & Son and Silvia Restaurant, O’Connor & Partners, PLLC (Kingston), Divine Asset Management (New York City), as well as some local “angels.” Including the rent they pay to the Reformed Church, the cost per meal comes to approximately $2.50.
As our conversation winds down, volunteers work around us to fold up the chairs and tablecloths in preparation for vacuuming the carpet. The crew of three women is led by Kate Camara, former Director of the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, who, in addition to serving as The Table’s volunteer coordinator, sits on its board, along with Heaney, John Mocarski, and Michael Holt.
“There’s one portion left,” a volunteer informs Sherry, offering to take it over to Family of Woodstock, where any surplus food can be eaten by those who may not have gotten to The Table that night.
“I sleep better at night knowing that there are people who aren’t going to bed hungry because The Table was able to provide for them,” says Sherry, who was food insecure as a child. “If I can just take that pressure off just one person, it means something to me.”
On Sunday, March 8, Colony Woodstock will host a benefit for The Table with performances by The Rock Academy. Sherry says folks who would like to make donations may do so securely via their website, https://www.thetableatwoodstock.org/, or drop checks at Provisions, located at the Woodstock Golf Club, 114 Mill Hill Road.