By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – In a typical month, Marietta Allen receives about 10 phone calls from people about the Food Outreach she oversees; last week her phone rang about 100 times.
Since 2011, on every third Friday, dedicated volunteers have congregated at Saint Mary’s Church in the City of Newburgh, distributing a wide range of vital food and beverage products as well as other critical staples to people throughout the region. Carrying the distinction of one of the largest, most comprehensive food distribution events in the area, the monthly “Giving Day” regularly serves about 1300 families. The ministry also consistently features a large contingent of senior volunteers. However, since the pandemic’s arrival, a significant portion of that vulnerable population has chiefly stayed home, avoiding public exposure.
Faced with a remaining scarce volunteer crew, Director Allen, who loves what she does, helping to develop several pantries in three neighboring counties, was fearful this month’s direly integral Saint Mary’s event might not happen. However, when 25 National Guard members, along with 15 volunteers from the County Executive Office (non essential employees) volunteered to fill the senior citizen gap, Allen could not have been happier to be able to supply those in need last Friday with the 15 tons of donated food just waiting to be unboxed and dispersed.
“We would not have been able to do this event today without the National Guard as well as other volunteers who stepped in,” said a grateful Allen whose busy ministry also makes plentiful weekly deliveries to local veterans as well as holds a monthly outreach for low income senior citizens. “Giving Day is just such an important service to provide for the City of Newburgh residents, and I’m just so thankful to the many people who have helped contribute to making it happen.”
Not only was manpower a challenging necessity to hold Friday’s function, but so too was putting in place a host of vital health and safety precautions, ensuring all those in attendance were safeguarded against Covid-19 in every means possible. Each volunteer and client entering the Saint Mary’s 3500 square foot gymnasium was required to wear a face mask and gloves as well as have his or her temperature screened before clients went through an
“Express Check-in,” void of pens or paperwork. A concentrated effort was made to follow 6-8 feet spacing guidelines, inside and outside; while numbers with time slots were provided, reducing-eliminating lines and crowds. For those who did need to wait outside, spacing chalk marks were clearly drawn. Inside the gym, distanced food tables were continually disinfected and Lysol was regularly sprayed, while numbers of clients allowed in as well proper distance and spacing was diligently monitored. The attention to every detail paid off, as the three hour event enjoyed impressive efficiency and success. Whether it was fresh produce, meat or fish, canned or baking goods, snack items, supplements, spices, and even ice cream, guests filled up their bags, alleviating some of the uncertainty during these trying times.
“My goal here is to really try to avoid the long lines, and provide people with things they can’t normally get, such as protein-fish, chicken and other meats- and vitamins; I just really want them to load up,” said Allen. “The food is extremely important now, especially with the virus, people need to have things in stock, put it in their freezer, so they can go to it when it’s needed.”
Darzell Adams, who lives in a senior housing center in the City of Newburgh, was among the many area residents who came out to the large gymnasium at Saint Mary’s Church Friday morning. All smiles and very patient, she could be spotted chatting with and thanking each of the volunteers who assisted her with selecting items.
“This is really, really nice; food is very scarce these days with few people working and a lot of others panicking, so this is a great supplement to have,” said Adams as she placed some items into her bag. “What I don’t use, I end up giving to others in my building; they are all so grateful for it, such a beautiful thing.”
That magic was felt by the volunteers as well.
“Working with the people and volunteers at Saint Mary’s is incredibly rewarding, especially in a time like this,” said National Guard member, Lieutenant Drake. “To see so many people selflessly serving and putting others first is truly inspiring, and helps remind me why I first put the uniform on.”
For those interested in getting food from upcoming “Giving Day” and/or learning about upcoming events held by the Saint Mary’s Outreach, contact Allen at: (845)541-8144.