Local Organizations Fight Hunger in Poughkeepsie
By: Gabriella Gamba and Francesca Vasta
Throughout Poughkeepsie, food pantries and soup kitchens help sustain those living in poverty.
Of the roughly 30,000 people living in Poughkeepsie, approximately 22.5 percent live this way, according to the local government of Dutchess County. The people affected by this difficult lifestyle are faced with a number of daily hardships; securing a place to live, supporting their families and often, worrying about where their next meals will come from.
There are various entities in the area that make it their missions to aid those in need by providing daily hot meals two or three times per day. Not only do they offer food to the hungry, but they in turn present a social setting for Poughkeepsie’s poor, where they feel comfortable and welcome while getting the nourishment they need.
Some of these establishments include Dutchess Outreach’s Lunch Box program and the local branch of the Salvation Army’s Feeding Program, both of which also offer access to food pantries.
The Lunch Box is a soup kitchen located in the Family Partnership Center on North Hamilton Street. Run by Margot Schulman of Wappingers for the last two years, the Lunch Box serves between 500 and 600 meals per day, six days a week.
After working as a private chef in New York City, Schulman decided she needed a lifestyle change, one that would be more fulfilling. She and her family moved to Wappingers, in hopes that she would find something more satisfying in this area.
“Being a private chef wasn’t ever for me. I love to cook, but I love to cook because it’s important for me that people eat well and enjoy their food,” Schulman says.
This need of fulfillment in her life led Schulman to the Lunch Box program where she is now the director.
Schulman understands the importance not only of providing Poughkeepsie’s poor with daily meals, but that the meals should be nutritious as well. The Lunch Box receives regular food donations from a variety of farms including the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, Fishkill farms and other big commercial farms in the area.
They also collect donations from Hunters for the Hungry, an organization that is associated with the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“Often, people want to hunt and they’ll throw [the animal] in the garbage or leave it in the field,” Schulman says. “But this organization picks it up, brings it to a processing facility and donates to us.”
The organization’s donations of pheasant, duck and venison make Hunters for the Hungry one of Schulman’s most appreciated connections.
“We serve about a 100 pounds of venison per week. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the people here and [venison] is a really healthy meat,” Schulman says.
Jenny Alarcon, captain and Core Officer at the local Salvation Army branch located on Pershing Avenue also receives fresh produce from local farms. In addition to this, the Salvation Army buys from a local food bank and are given donations from restaurants in the area including Panera Bread, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster and Olive Garden. In the past, some of these restaurants have catered dinners at the Feeding Program in order to give clients a more restaurant-style experience.
The Feeding Program at the Salvation Army serves breakfast five days per week and lunch three days per week, feeding about 100 people per day. Also open to the public is a food pantry that provides those in need with dry foods that are given out during scheduled appointments.
There are various reasons why people frequent both The Feeding Program and the Lunch Box. Schulman and Alarcon are both familiar with the stories of those who utilize their services on a regular basis.
“We get a lot of young people who have drug problems. There’s a lot of heroin and alcohol abuse,” Schulman says.
She continues to explain that many people who come in either have low-paying jobs that can’t sustain them or have recently lost their jobs and can’t afford to pay for food for themselves. Schulman finds that a lot of times, the clients will fall into bad situations, which progressively worsen. Eventually, these people find themselves at a place like the Lunch Box or Salvation Army Feeding Program.
Alarcon finds her clients to be similar to Schulman’s.
“Many of them recently lost employment and come here because it’s the only place they can find food,” Alarcon says. She notices that about 80 percent of her clients are male, while only 20 percent are female.
In order to efficiently serve these clients, both organizations employ volunteers from the surrounding areas who regularly come in to assist with day-to-day operations.
Alarcon speaks of certain Salvation Army volunteers who have remained for the past 30, 40 and even 50 years.
“It’s quite an honor to have them as volunteers because they want to make a difference. They want to make a difference and you can tell that cause they stick around,” Alarcon says.
Some other volunteers at the Feeding Program include groups from local high schools and churches as well as government-mandated volunteers that have community service hours to fulfill.
Schulman’s volunteers at the Lunch Box also come from local organizations, churches and schools, including Vassar College, Marist College, the Arlington Teachers Association and a local Greek church.
One man, David Fishman, volunteers at the Lunch Box six days per week, and has been since April. He helps out by serving and preparing food, and cleaning up after a meal shift.
“I’ve made some friends here, it’s a very friendly environment,” Fishman says. “I like helping people and giving back, so that’s why I come almost every day.”
By the services provided by the Lunch Box program and the Feeding Program, active members of the Poughkeepsie community are working to combat the issue of hunger in the area. This problem is one that has stared Poughkeepsie in the face for many years, and Schulman believes that it is time to get moving on making significant changes and improvements.
She is confident that, “people [living in Poughkeepsie] have good hearts and that they want to do good things but they are not opening themselves up to new ideas,” ones that can decrease the 22.5 percent of Poughkeepsie that lives in poverty.