Food drive supports pantries

THE WOMAN REACHED INTO her Price Chopper grocery bag and pulled out a round tin of fancy cookies. Then she headed to the parking lot at the Catskill supermarket. The tin joined the stacks of food that had just started accumulating in the school bus.

The whole interaction took a few seconds last Saturday. It was one of hundreds of donations to the first of two “Stuff the Bus” food drives sponsored by the local Clear Channel radio stations and this newspaper. The small bus from Pulcher and Sacco had maybe 20 seats. The donations in Catskill went to the food pantries of Community Action of Greene County. The bus filled up quickly with things like canned goods, bread, cereal, pasta and sauce, juice, diapers, paper plates and that tin of cookies.

The food collected this Saturday, November 13, at the Price Chopper on Fairview Avenue/Route 9 in Greenport will end up at the pantries of Hudson Salvation Army and Catholic Charities. Well, no, actually it will end up with our neighbors who are hungry.

Hard to say how much food was on that little bus in Catskill, but let’s say it was, figuratively if not precisely, “a ton of food.” That sounds like a lot until you consider that the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York handles the equivalent of 30 tons of a day, and it still isn’t enough to keep up with the need. The Regional Food Bank helps feed nearly a quarter million people in 23 counties in this region, including people in Columbia and Greene counties.

One person familiar with the food pantries in Greene County looked at all the food on our bus and nodded her approval. The she sighed. “It’ll be gone by the end of the week,” she said.

The food bank says that one in every three recipients of donated food is a kid, and almost 40% of the households receiving the donations include one employed adult. These data confirm that a lot of working families, let alone those without jobs, can’t afford to give their children the food they need to grow and learn and thrive. But the folks who dropped off food to stuff the bus probably knew that already. You don’t have to look very long or hard these days to find somebody who isn’t quite making it.

The number of people served by the Regional Food Bank increased 25% between 2005 and 2009. But enough statistics. The figures alone don’t make people open their wallets and fill a bus full of food for other people to eat. We could have surveyed the folks who donated food last Saturday, looking for motivations. But if we had, what would we have asked the boy, about 11, who stepped up to the door of the bus and held out at arm’s length a single can of Campbell’s soup. His mother waited for him at her shopping cart a few feet away. He hesitated and didn’t look up until the can was gratefully accepted and passed up the aisle of the bus. “You’re welcome,” he said and hurried away with his mom. She was smiling at him.

Of the hundreds of donations, no two were the same. Not even close. One older man with a thick gray beard and hair to match strode up to the bus pushing a two-deck shopping cart filled with half a dozen plastic bags, each stuffed with cans of vegetables. “There you go,” he said gruffly and walked off before anyone could react.

A few donors stayed to chat; most people didn’t linger. They gave what they could and went on about their lives.

For me, it would defeat the privilege of helping on a project like this to judge the gifts or the givers. But I spent a little time thinking about that tin of fancy cookies until I had one of those “Duh!” moments. It’s none of my business, but I like to imagine that the woman who contributed those cookies likes them herself. So she was sharing something that brings her pleasure with someone she’ll never meet. That’s as good a way to describe generosity as any I know.

If you have any shopping to do this weekend, the bus will be in front of the Greenport Price Chopper Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you can give, whatever you can give is welcome, and it will help.

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