In Ancram Neighbors help neighbors

ANCRAM—If people can’t afford food at holiday time, chances are they also struggle to buy it throughout the year.

That’s the rationale behind the Ancramdale Neighbors Helping Neighbors Association’s (ANHNA) weekly food delivery program, according to organization’s secretary, board member and volunteer Jack Lindsey.

The group was loosely formed back in 2003 by former Ancramdale Postmaster Deborah Taft and her friend and neighbor Anne Carriere. When residents came into the post office daily to get their mail, they also found a sympathetic listener in Mrs. Taft, telling her about their difficulties in providing for their families. The efforts of Mrs. Taft and Ms. Carriere to help eventually grew into a full-fledged, not-for-profit 501(c)3 charity in 2009.

Mr. Lindsey told The Columbia Paper this week that many of the families now served by the Neighbors’ food program were doing fine until the economic downturn in 2009.

In one family of seven, the father lost his job, the mother became disabled and they lost their home to foreclosure. “There are no deadbeats,” he said, and it is not necessary that people the Neighbors help be on public assistance. “They are the working poor.”

The nine families–38 people in total–are all families with children; the largest has five. They were referred to the Neighbors by Bette Gallup, the dynamo director of the Roe Jan Food Pantry in Hillsdale that serves the Roe Jan area.

“They have gone to Social Services and other agencies and still need help, that’s where we step in,” said Mr. Lindsey. “Not all people on public assistance receive food stamps, some make just enough to disqualify them for these programs. They work but still can’t make ends meet.”

The Neighbors’ mission statement says it is a “small grassroots, direct-help organization that provides assistance with emergency food, housing, fuel and transportation for the residents of Ancram.”

The group’s annual budget, between $8,000 and $10,000, does not allow it to buy food or other goods and services for the people who need them, Mr. Lindsey said, so the group relies on other resources, such as board member Nancy Bryant, who has a knack for hooking people up with programs they did not know existed.

One resident needed diapers and while there are diaper banks, they do not serve Ancram and the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program “does not allow spending on diapers,” he said, so the Neighbors sought out and found a partner to fund the purchase of diapers.

Through their network, the Neighbors were also able to help a man who needed a car repair he could not afford. As the group hears of a local problem they seek out other agencies to help them solve it.

About a year ago, the Neighbors began its weekly food distribution program based on the City Random Harvest model in New York City. Volunteers there go to restaurants and grocery stores and pick up leftover food and products with an approaching sell-by date, take them to a kitchen where they “reconfigure it” into meals, which they then deliver to homeless shelters, said Mr. Lindsey.

The Neighbors put their heads together to figure out how to make the system work without a kitchen and without storage.

They partnered with two farm stands, Green Acres in Livingston and Sol Flower, just over the Dutchess County line in North East, both of which are only open on weekends. Neighbors asked the farmers for their “over harvest” and produce they did not think would last until the following weekend. Neighbors pick up the goods on Mondays.

They also approached the Hannaford supermarket in Livingston, which pulls items from its shelves daily with a sell-by-date three days in advance.

Though Hannaford has its own foundation and donates food to a regional food bank, which Ancram residents do not have access to, the supermarket agreed to help the Neighbors in their mission.

The idea of sell-by dates started out as a consumer protection mechanism, but it has evolved into an “inventorying” system for food stores and a marketing system for manufacturers as a way “to keep their products rolling through the chain,” said Mr. Lindsey, who researched the subject for a recent Ted Talk he gave at the Hudson Opera House. He said the sell-by date has nothing to do with freshness except when it comes to meat or fish, and a National Resources Defense Council study found that on average 40% of American manufactured food stuffs are wasted.

On most Mondays, Mr. Lindsey and his partner, Bob Murphy, handle the food program pickup and delivery route and have streamlined it into a three-hour process. Once they have all the food collected, they sort it by category, box it and deliver it to the nine families.

Sometimes the Neighbors find they have too much of one thing, perhaps loaves of bread, rolls, dairy, yogurt, kale or squash.

In that case, they have made arrangements with Mrs. Gallup at the Roe Jan Food Pantry and the Pine Plains Food Pantry to accept the excess. The pantries in turn call the families they serve and let them know that the fresh food is available immediately. Food pantries can usually only deal with non-perishable food, but if they know families who need it they can get the fresh food distributed quickly and directly.

One year Mr. Lindsey had a bumper crop of apples and was able to bring Mrs. Gallup seven bushels. By the next day, they were all gone, he said.

At holiday time, the Neighbors assemble Thanksgiving and Christmas boxes each containing a meal for eight people, including a “big turkey and all the raw ingredients for the trimmings.” Many area churches and other organizations also mount such efforts.

The Neighbors purchase the food they need for the holiday meals affordably from Sunday in the Country, a Dutchess County charitable group.

The Neighbors’ five-member board and up to 15 volunteers assemble the holiday baskets the Saturday before the holiday and deliver them.

The Neighbors annual funding appeal letter will soon appear in Ancram mailboxes.

Contributions not only assist the Neighbors in providing food but also clothing and toys at Christmas; school supplies; weekend food to students who don’t have a source of nutrition outside school; scholarships so local children can attend Ancram Kids Summer Camp, plus this year the group provided three $1,000 scholarships to Ancram college students for expenses such as food, books, clothing and transportation.

To donate, call ANHNA President Adrienne Citrin at 518 329-5042, Mr. Lindsey at 518 329-7306 or send a check to ANHNA, P.O. Box 97, Ancramdale 12503. Contributions are tax deductible.

To contact Diane Valden email

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