Ulster County food-delivery program to shift from restaurant meals to groceries

County Executive Ryan at Maria’s Bazaar in Woodstock

As of May 4, 100,000 meals have been prepared and packaged through Project Resilience, an Ulster County initiative that has tapped over 150 restaurants to mass-produce hot meals for residents that have been impacted by COVID-19. The program, which has been underway since the beginning of March, will halt restaurant deliveries on May 16. But, the program will continue in an altered capacity in its “second phase.”

“The program is going to continue, it’s just a shift to groceries as opposed to restaurant meals,” said Assistant Deputy County Executive Dan Torres on May 5. “Additionally, we are helping some residents get services they now qualify for. We have already done 20,000 meals worth of groceries on top of the 100,000 hot meals.”

The two-million-dollar cause has been funded primarily through donations; through donations from approximately 1000 individuals, United Way has raised over $180,000, Central Hudson has extended $25,000 toward the cause, The Dyson Foundation has handed down $20,000, AT&T has donated $10,000 and the Ulster Savings Charitable Foundation has pledged another $10,000. Many local organizations, including the Kingston Junior League, the Trinity Episcopal Church and the Ulster County Italian American Foundation have also chipped in.

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“Serving our 100,000th meal is a major milestone for Project Resilience. In just seven weeks, we have shown what the wave of goodwill from across our county can do,” County Executive Pat Ryan said. “This initiative has highlighted not just the resilience of our community, but also our compassion and generosity. After seeing our community step up and respond in this way, I’m fully confident that we can and will emerge from this crisis even stronger than we were before.”

The project not only sustains those who have lost their livelihoods or who have compromised immune systems that prevent them from maintaining their usual dining habits, but also allows businesses to keep their doors open and employees on staff.

“It’s really been a big help for us,” said Michael Katz, who said that his restaurant Village Pizza in New Paltz has made approximately 500 meals for the cause. “Being able to have those orders at a time where we [had much fewer] orders coming in has been a blessing… I feel like across the board, everybody that I know, friends of mine in the business that have been participating in the project have found that it’s wonderful. The project itself is just terrific, we can help people that really need it right now, and we also need help. It’s really twofold and I think everyone appreciates it.”

Katz, along with the other participating business owners, had to devise meal ideas that he could cook en masse, that would keep and reheat well. He settled on preparing a fleet of football-sized sandwiches, made with house-baked bread. Generally, the sandwiches consist of turkey, ham, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise and come with a garden salad and house dressing. The proprietors of Seasoned Delicious, in Saugerties, known for their homemade hot sauces and Caribbean cuisine, have also had to do some brainstorming to ensure that the meals they provide are palatable for a wide audience of eaters.

“Because it’s a lot of children and older people, we keep it not spicy,” said Tamika Dunkley. “We’re doing pastas and chickens and potatoes and mixed vegetables. We try to appeal to everybody.”

Dunkley estimates that she and her husband, Martin, have prepared about 1000 meals for the project.
“There can be a silver lining in this epidemic,” she said. “The community had really been together and we’ve supported each other. It’s incredible to see.”

Some restaurants, like Provisions Woodstock, have gone above and beyond the scope of Project Resilience. The business has converted its dining space to a food pantry, which provides groceries for about 40 Woodstockers. Charitable meals were already being cooked and packaged in the building for the Table of Woodstock; with the two combined causes, co-owner Emily Sherry estimates that 500 meals are being produced each week. She and partner Anthony Heaney, along with their kitchen manager, have spent 40 hours per week in the kitchen. Sherry, who is an immunocompromised cancer survivor, called Project Resilience a “lifeline.”

“It’s tough, I know other restaurants have the blessing of being able to have volunteers, but we’ve had to keep it really really tight,” she said. “We had to make this very difficult decision to not serve the public… we had to look at it and initially we had to say to each other ‘what’s going to happen to us?'”

Sherry said that Project Resilience has been her business’s sole source of income for the last six weeks.

Boitson’s Restaurant in Kingston may be the only restaurant offering vegan options, like Moroccan tajine with couscous and coconut curry with jasmine rice, amongst affiliated businesses. Like Provisions, Boitson’s has partially converted to a grocery set up, and residents can place orders at http://www.boitsons.com.

“It feels good to do something for our community,” said owner Maria Philippis. “I’m happy to keep a few of my staff employed, but it’s a very different type of cooking. We’re used to turning out 150 meals on a Saturday night but they’re all different and there’s a body attached and there’s a flow of the restaurant. Now we’re almost an assembly line, we make big quantities of stuff, we compose it together and pack it up and we don’t know where it’s going to. Sometimes we make up stories about the people getting the food. We hope it goes to people that need it. ”

To participate, whether as a recipient or a provider, in Project Resilience, visit https://covid19.ulstercountyny.gov/project-resilience/

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