Twice a month a cadre of volunteers deliver three days’ worth of no-frills food to people in Saratoga County who are homebound, shut in, or otherwise unable to pick up — let alone buy — basic groceries.
I’ve been a third-string back-up delivery driver ever since my adult sons were barely big enough to get their arms around the food-filled boxes. I wanted the boys to see that poverty and hunger are neither abstract nor far away – and that every person can do something concrete to help.
Together we headed down dirt roads to unnumbered trailers. We lumbered up creaky apartment steps and along hallways that hadn’t seen a paintbrush in years. We’d get buzzed into cheerful senior housing and knock on bell-less doors in mobile home parks.
We left boxes where requested, sometimes on a clear kitchen table in a nicely kept apartment and sometimes on the frighteningly crammed counter of a hoarder. Occasionally we’d see a kid or two; more often we’d meet an old person grateful not just for a box of food but for a few minutes of company.
This past Saturday I participated in another part of the program, filling the boxes for delivery. It was quick and easy, because more than 30 people had responded to a call for helpers, even at 8 a.m. on a weekend.
“We usually have a core of 16 regulars, but we were down to eight,” explained Chuck Kochheiser, who runs this terrific program at the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church and was heartened by the turnout.
Donated non-perishables were neatly stacked on long tables by food type: canned vegetables, soup, cereal, pasta, tomato sauce, apple juice, canned fruit, peanut butter, jelly and a special treat this week: a few boxes of raisins. Sheets containing the recipient’s name and the number of people in the household were taped to empty grocery boxes, which volunteers filled by moving along the stacked food, selecting one of each staple.
“Put the bread in last so it won’t get squashed, and take only one loaf per recipient, no matter how many people are in the family,” we were instructed. “There’s barely enough this week to go around.”
This made me think, with a pang of shame and regret, of the buy-one, get-one loaf I’d stuck in my freezer the day before.
Filled boxes were lined up along one wall. Food remaining on the tables was divvied up into the boxes: a few extra cans of tomato soup and mixed vegetables, a couple more boxes of spaghetti, maybe a second half-gallon of juice and a bag of rice.
The next morning, drivers were given a sheet with directions and contact information, their trunks loaded with the boxes for their route.
In two weeks, it will all be repeated.
The volunteers, most of them affiliated with the church, do a bang-up job organizing donations and deliveries for this Rural Food Delivery Program, a partnership between the nonprofit Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council and the church, where the carton-packing takes place. They are among countless local people who quietly, regularly and generously devote their time, the most precious of commodities, to help others in a variety of ways, for a variety of reasons.
The Rural Food Delivery Program is mildly misnamed as it strives to address an ever-growing need that knows no geographic boundaries. While many recipients live in the far reaches of the county, some are in Saratoga Springs, Mechanicville and Ballston Spa. Hunger is everywhere, every day, as volunteers at the church know well.
On this particular morning, when all the food was in boxes, a first-timer asked, “Should we fold up and put away the tables?”
“No need,” came the friendly reply. The deliveries are every two weeks, but the tables remain in place to serve other local people struggling to get by. “They’ll be used all week for the soup kitchen.”