Spotlighting the Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative / Poniendo el foco sobre Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative

The Farm Hub increased production of mixed greens to support emergency food networks

Spotlighting the Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative / Poniendo el foco sobre Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative

(Spanish translation to follow/traducción en español abajo)

 

The Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative started as a collective effort to provide food access during COVID-19

The streets and neighborhoods may be a bit quieter in Kingston due to COVID-19, but under this “new normal,” monumental efforts are being made to distribute food to residents. Since March, prepared meals, groceries, and fresh produce have been donated widely, serving over 1,000 households. At the peak, some 2,900 prepared meals were being delivered five days a week and 500 families were receiving weekly grocery deliveries.

The food deliveries are coordinated by the Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative, a grassroots effort made up of over a dozen organizations, not including the City of Kingston and Ulster County’s Project Resilience. The Collaborative focuses on delivering meals and groceries to households in the Kingston City School District. Requests are being taken through an emergency hotline that is shared through the group’s website.

The Collaborative came together rapidly to find ways as a group to tackle food access and centralize those efforts. Each member organization plays a specific and unique role – whether it be in local food procurement, distribution, communications, or volunteer coordination. Food preparation for hot meals was handled by individual restaurants, soup kitchens, and other community food providers like Family of Woodstock’s Everett Hodge Center. Grocery Bags were organized by local food pantries including People’s Place, Community Action, and Catholic Charities.

Food donations and distribution to emergency feeding systems were, of course, active long before COVID-19.  But the need escalated with the pandemic. People’s Place, for instance, saw a 430 percent rise in the number of people served compared to the same time last year.

“We were concerned about what was going to happen with food access and we knew we could have a food shortage,” says Susan Hereth, education director at the Kingston YMCA Farm Project. Hereth is also a member of Eat Well Kingston a subcommittee of the City’s Live Well Kingston Commission, the umbrella entity that promotes health and well-being.

In the Kingston City School District, before the pandemic, roughly 3,000 children were served breakfast and lunch at school every day.  

Immediately following the initial shutdown, Hereth consulted with fellow members of Eat Well Kingston, noting in an email to the group that schools are closed and asking “Where and how students would access meals now?”

Emily Flynn, Director of Health and Wellness for the City of Kingston, calls the email “a spark that many people jumped at to support this work.”

At the same time, various organizations in the city were preparing for the crisis. Callie Jayne, Executive Director of Rise Up Kingston, a grassroots advocacy organization, notes the school district closed on a Monday, and by that Wednesday KEFC volunteers were delivering meals to families and individuals within the Kingston City School District.

“We assumed we wouldn’t return to school for the rest of the year and started a plan,” says Jayne who has two children ages 12 and 6 in the school system.  

 

Joining forces

Steve Noble, the Mayor of the City of Kingston helps with grocery distribution efforts/Courtesy of Stephanie Alinsug

The speed at which the Collaborative came together and its success is worth noting. The initiative is also a window into how non-profits, local government, and community members can convene and work together to address a crisis.

No doubt the relationships between organizations that existed prior to COVID-19 were a key to the group’s success. Many members of the Collaborative also participate in Eat Well Kingston, and a number of them live and work in Kingston.

“We are deeply embedded and invested in making Kingston a vibrant, wonderful, healthy, and successful community,” Hereth says. Moreover, everyone brought complementary skills that “flowed together well.”

“We already had a trust there and it was easy to communicate with each other,” says Flynn. “That is the amazing and miraculous thing right now — the organizations come with many different missions and we have worked really well together.”

Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan and Marwan Rzek, owner of Maria’s Bazaar, work together on food donations as part of Project Resilience. Photo Courtesy of Ulster County Government.

The actual work of distributing food has happened through grassroots efforts bolstered by technology to support remote communication. Members organized themselves into categories of production, packing and distribution, communication, and volunteer coordination. There are daily calls, virtual meetings, a weekly distribution team meeting, and a vibrant Slack channel.

At the Farm Hub, the Community Food team procured and distributed produce to the organizations on the front line of keeping people fed.

From the last week in April through mid-June, the Farm Hub distributed over 50,000 meals worth of produce to community organizations including People’s Place, Family of Woodstock, Dutchess Outreach, CCE Orange County Gleaning Program, and others that disperse food out to people who need it throughout Ulster, Orange, and Dutchess counties in efforts within the KEFC as well as emergency feeding programs outside of the county. The Farm Hub’s Community Food team also worked on procuring healthy produce and served as lead organizers to the KEFC grocery box delivery program.

 

A multitude of volunteers

Volunteers – about 600 of them – are critical to the effort. Rise Up’s Jayne pulled together an initial group of volunteers to do the work of reaching out and organizing all the other individuals who signed up to volunteer. Troy Ellen Dixon of the A.J. Williams-Myers African Roots Center and Caitlin Salemi co-coordinate what’s now the KEFC Volunteer Scheduling team, which has ranged from having 10 to 16 schedulers, all who work remotely to slot volunteers into shifts. Jayne calls the seamless coordination “amazing.”

There are volunteers of all ages from teens to senior citizens. “Everybody brings their skills, talent, and commitment to feeding people in Kingston in this crazy time,” says Hereth. “People are really looking to help in a time of crisis.”

The Collaborative has drawn in well over 600 volunteers, many from Ulster County/Courtesy of Stephanie Alinsug

Michael Berg, executive director of Family of Woodstock Inc., says COVID-19 offered a window for organizations and people of all backgrounds to get involved.

“Not once did I hear any issues about not having enough volunteers to do the work. The whole community seemed to have collectively decided to help, and the people behind the scenes were working around the clock to keep everything running smoothly,” says Jeff Scott, the Farm Hub’s marketing and logistics coordinator.  

 

A new chapter

In the short time it has existed, the Collaborative has already seen a number of rapid changes. In mid-May, there was a move to expand groceries, deliveries, and scale back on prepared meals.

While the funding from Project Resilience to have local restaurants prepare meals has ended, it continues for grocery deliveries until the end of July 2020.

The benefit is that groceries last longer for families, and “are more affordable to procure and have less packaging, so it’s more sustainable. In the long term it makes sense,” says Katrina Light, community food manager at the Farm Hub.

The Everett Hodge Center through the Family of Woodstock, which had typically provided some 150 dinners daily to children, prior to the pandemic, will continue to do so. During the pandemic, they increased their production and provided 3,000 dinners a week. The Hodge Center continues to work with KEFC volunteers to distribute prepared meals to high need individuals and families living in motels and boarding houses in Ulster County.

While the next phase of the pandemic is unclear it’s safe to assume that the impact from COVID-19 will be long-lasting. In the meantime, the pandemic has exposed a vulnerable food system with cracks and fissures. It also sparks questions on how to address food access in the long run.

“Now that we’ve had a little chance to catch up, the group is trying to figure out long term systematic changes. I think Ulster County can serve as an amazing model for the rest of the country,” says Hereth citing widespread support for farmers and active distribution channels. 

She continued: “I think all of us are wondering what other solutions there could be to fix this system that is so apparently broken. People need healthy food and they need decent wages.” 

The daily landscape evolves as the pandemic continues. By June the hotline slowed as more people returned to work, unemployment insurance and SNAP benefits increased, and as the weather warmed and more folks go out to access food.

“Things are scaling back and we are starting to look to the future and how we can reduce food insecurity moving forward,” Light says.  

The volunteer force remains robust with about fifty volunteers managing the hotline, schedules, and delivering food several times a week. 

“It takes a whole village to do this. Most are volunteers, and they come back again and again,” Flynn says. 

The experience has been a positive one for everyone involved in the Collaborative. They work well together and they know they are able to get food out to those in need during an emergency. It motivates them to continue addressing food insecurity at its roots, member organizations say. During these unprecedented times, the Collaborative is just one of many efforts and initiatives across the country that show the power of a strong community.

“A lot of people have stepped up and this is really a tribute to our community,” says  Berg. 

Indeed, crisis is often a catalyst for permanent change.

 

 

For more information 

The Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative is a coalition of 15 community organizations, community members, the city of Kingston, and Ulster County’s Project Resilience. 

AJ Williams 

City of Kingston 

CCE

Family of Woodstock

Kingston Food Co-op

Hudson Valley Seed 

Hudson Valley Farm Hub 

People’s Place  

Radio Kingston 

Rise Up Kingston

The Salvation Army – Kingston NY

UlsterCorps

Ulster County Department of Mental Health

Ulster County Community Action

Kingston YMCA Farm Project

YMCA of Kingston Ulster County

Project Resilience

For more information about the Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative go to www.kingstonemergencyfood.com or call 845-443-8888.


To Learn More

Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, a nonprofit research, policy and planning group, issued a report in May 2020 that explores food insecurity in the Hudson Valley and recent disruptions to the food supply due to COVID-19. Click here to read the report.

The Hamilton Project released results from the “COVID Impact Survey and The Hamilton Project/Future of the Middle Class Initiative Survey of Mothers with Young Children” in late April 2020. Click here to learn more.


By the Numbers

*Note: The following information was provided by the City of Kingston and Ulster County during the week of May 4, 2020.

March 18 – 175 meals delivered March 23 – 25 households receiving grocery deliveriesApril 24 – 2,900 meals delivered

April 27 – 90 households receiving grocery deliveries 

May 4 – The Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative has entered week 8 of prepared meal distribution out of the YMCA of Kingston & Ulster County. Each day about 30 volunteers help pack and deliver meals throughout the City of Kingston & the school district’s area, 800 community members received two meals each today. 

May 16 – main meal distribution hub shifts from the Kingston YMCA to the Everett Hodge Center where as much as 600+ meals will be served there. 

Grocery distribution ramps up with People’s Place, Community Action and Catholic Charities to provide groceries to over 500 families each week.


Other initiatives

The Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative is only one of a number of initiatives in Ulster County and beyond that address challenges from Covid-19. Below are other examples of other efforts.

Project Resilience
Project Resilience is a community fund and local food distribution effort that was launched by Ulster County on March 17 to help residents and support small businesses including restaurants impacted by Covid-19. As of May the initiative had delivered an estimated 150,000 prepared meals.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County
CCE Ulster created and compiled an interactive map that highlights an up-to-date listing of local farms, farm markets, and food pantries in Ulster County. The map also includes Dutchess County, Columbia County, Sullivan County, and Orange County. To access the map, click here

Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County 
CCE Orange County runs a gleaning program that brings hundreds of thousands of pounds of unused fresh produce to the GleanMobile (a refrigerated box truck) for delivery to local soup kitchens and food pantries. Some food has also been distributed to Rockland County and to Sullivan County.

Rondout Valley Growers Association 
The Rondout Valley Growers Association, also known as the RVGA, is a farmer-led nonprofit organization, made up of small and mid-sized producers in the Rondout Valley. The RVGA launched a Farmer Innovation GoFundMe campaign where all donations go toward helping farmers innovate to survive Covid-19. For more information on the fund or to donate, click here.

American Farmland Trust
The American Farmland Trust (AFT), a national organization that works to protect and conserve farmland, launched the Farmer Relief Fund that gives cash grants to farmers who are in need of assistance. For more information on the fund or to donate, click here.

RUPCO
RUPCO is a Kingston-based nonprofit that focuses on improving and supporting communities through the lens of housing. The organization launched a comprehensive website that lists contacts and resources for emergency food access. For more information, click here

 

–Amy Wu

 


 

 

Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative comenzó como un esfuerzo colectivo para proveer acceso a alimentos durante el COVID-19

Las calles y vecindarios pueden estar un poco más silenciosos en Kingston debido al COVID-19, pero bajo esta “nueva normalidad”, yacen esfuerzos monumentales para distribuir alimentos a los residentes. Desde marzo se han donado muchas comidas preparadas, bolsas de alimentos y productos agrícolas frescos que han llegado a más de 1,000 hogares. En su momento pico, se entregaban unas 2,900 comidas preparadas los cinco días a la semana y 500 familias recibían entregas semanales de bolsas de comida.

Las entregas de comida son coordinadas por Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative, un esfuerzo de base comunitaria conformado por más de una docena de organizaciones, sin incluir la ciudad de Kingston y Project Resilience del condado de Ulster. Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative se enfoca en entregar comidas preparadas y bolsas de alimentos a hogares en el Distrito Escolar de la ciudad de Kingston. Los pedidos se toman a través de una línea de emergencias compartida a través de la página web del grupo.

Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative se formó rápidamente para encontrar maneras de resolver el problema de acceso a la comida y centralizar esos esfuerzos como grupo. Cada organización miembro tiene un rol particular y específico – sea en la adquisición de alimentos locales, la distribución, las comunicaciones o la coordinación de los voluntarios. La preparación de los alimentos para las comidas calientes fue gestionada por restaurantes, comedores comunitarios y otros proveedores de alimentos de la comunidad como el Everett Hodge Center de Family of Woodstock. Las bolsas de comida fueron gestionadas por bancos de alimentos a nivel local, incluyendo People’s Place, Community Action y Catholic Charities.

Desde luego, las donaciones de alimentos y la distribución a los sistemas de alimentación de emergencia estaban activos mucho antes que llegara el COVID-19, pero la necesidad incrementó con la pandemia. People’s Place, por ejemplo, vio un aumento del 430 porciento en la cantidad de personas atendidas en comparación con la misma fecha el año pasado.

“Estábamos preocupados por lo que iba a pasar con respeto al acceso a la comida y sabíamos que podíamos tener una escasez de alimentos”, dice Susan Hereth, directora de educación en Kingston YMCA Farm Project. Hereth también es miembro de Eat Well Kingston, un subcomité del comité de la ciudad, Live Well Kingston, la entidad paraguas que promueve la salud y el bienestar. 

En el Distrito Escolar de la ciudad de Kingston, antes de la pandemia, se les servía desayuno y almuerzo en la escuela a aproximadamente 3,000 niños todos los días.  

Inmediatamente después del cierre inicial, Hereth se comunicó con colegas miembros de Eat Well Kingston. En un correo electrónico dirigido al grupo, señaló que las escuelas estaban cerradas y preguntó, “¿Dónde y cómo los estudiantes tendrán acceso a las comidas ahora”?

Emily Flynn, directora de Salud y Bienestar de la ciudad de Kingston, dice que ese correo electrónico fue “la chispa que hizo que muchas personas saltaran a apoyar este trabajo”.

Al mismo tiempo, varias organizaciones en la ciudad se prepararon para la crisis. Callie Jayne, directora ejecutiva de Rise Up Kingston, una organización de defensoría de base comunitaria, señala que el distrito escolar cerró un lunes, y ese miércoles los voluntarios de KEFC ya estaban entregando comidas a familias e individuos dentro del Distrito Escolar de la ciudad de Kingston.

“Asumimos que no íbamos a regresar a clases por el resto del año e iniciamos un plan”, dice Jayne que tiene dos hijos de 12 y 6 años en el sistema escolar.  

 

Uniendo fuerzas

Steve Noble, el alcalde de la ciudad de Kingston ayuda con los esfuerzos de distribución de las bolsas de alimentos/Cortesía de Stephanie Alinsug

La velocidad con la que se conformó KEFC y el éxito que ha tenido son dignos de señalar. La iniciativa también sirve de vitrina para ver cómo las sin fines de lucro, el gobierno local y los miembros de la comunidad pueden reunirse y trabajar juntos para encarar una crisis.

Sin lugar a dudas, las relaciones que ya existían entre las organizaciones antes del COVID-19 fueron clave para el éxito del grupo. Muchos miem

bros de KEFC también participan en Eat Well Kingston, y varios de ellos viven y trabajan en Kingston.

“Estamos profundamente integrados y comprometidos con hacer de Kingston una comunidad dinámica, maravillosa, saludable y exitosa”, dice Hereth. Además todos trajeron destrezas complementarias que “en su conjunto fluyeron bien”.

“Ya había confianza y fue fácil comunicarnos entre nosotros”, dice Flynn. “Eso es lo asombroso y milagroso ahora mismo — las organizaciones tienen muchas misiones distintas y hemos trabajado muy bien entre todas”.

El ejecutivo del condado de Ulster, Pat Ryan, y Marwan Rzek, dueña de Maria’s Bazaar, trabajan juntos con las donaciones de comida como parte de Project Resilience. La foto es cortesía del gobierno del condado de Ulster.

El trabajo real de la distribución de la comida se ha llevado a cabo a través de esfuerzos de base comunitaria impulsados por la tecnología para apoyar la comunicación a distancia. Los miembros se organizaron a sí mismos en categorías de producción, embalaje y distribución, comunicación y coordinación de voluntarios. Hay llamadas diarias, reuniones virtuales, una reunión semanal del equipo de distribución y un canal de Slack dinámico.

En Farm Hub, el equipo de Alimentos Comunitarios consiguió y distribuyó productos agrícolas a las organizaciones en la línea del frente que mantienen a la gente alimentada. 

Desde la última semana de abril hasta mediados de junio, Farm Hub distribuyó productos agrícolas equivalentes a más de 50,000 comidas a organizaciones comunitarias, incluyendo People’s Place, Family of Woodstock, Dutchess Outreach, CCE Orange County Gleaning Program y otras que distribuyen comida a gente que la necesita a lo largo de los condados de Ulster, Orange y Dutchess como parte de los esfuerzos de KEFC, así como también a programas de alimentación de emergencia fuera del condado. El equipo de Alimentos Comunitarios de Farm Hub también trabajó para conseguir productos agrícolas saludables y sus miembros fungieron como organizadores principales del programa de entregas de cajas de alimentos de KEFC.

 

Una multitud de voluntarios

Los voluntarios – alrededor de 600– son cruciales para este esfuerzo. Jayne de Rise Up juntó a un grupo inicial de voluntarios para hacer el trabajo de contactar y organizar a todos los otros individuos que se registraron para ser voluntarios. Troy Ellen Dixon de A.J. Williams-Myers African Roots Center y Caitlin Salemi coordinan juntos lo que ahora es el equipo de Coordinación de Voluntarios de KEFC, que ha tenido entre 10 a 16 coordinadores, todos los cuales trabajan a distancia para ubicar a los voluntarios en turnos. Jayne dice que es “increíble” esta coordinación tan impecable.

Hay voluntarios de todas las edades, desde adolescentes hasta personas de la tercera edad. “Todos aportan sus destrezas, talento y compromiso para alimentar a las personas en Kingston en estos tiempos tan locos”, dice Hereth. “La gente, realmente, está buscando cómo ayudar en este momento de crisis”.

KEFC ha reunido a más de 600 voluntarios, muchos del condado de Ulster/Foto cortesía de Stephanie Alinsug

Michael Berg, director ejecutivo de Family of Woodstock Inc., dice que el COVID-19 brindó una oportunidad para que las organizaciones y gente de diversos trasfondos se involucraran.

“Ni una sola vez escuché que hubo problemas por no tener suficientes voluntarios para hacer el trabajo. La comunidad entera parece que decidió ayudar colectivamente, y la gente tras bastidores trabajó a todas horas para mantener todo funcionando sin problemas”, dice Jeff Scott, coordinador de mercadeo y logística en Farm Hub.  

 

Un nuevo capítulo

En el poco tiempo que ha existido, KEFC ya ha atravesado rápidamente por varios cambios. A mediados de mayo, hubo una movida para aumentar las bolsas de alimentos y las entregas, así como para disminuir la cantidad de comidas preparadas.

Aunque ya finalizó el financiamiento de Project Resilience para que restaurantes locales preparen comidas, aún continúa para las entregas de bolsas de alimentos hasta finales de julio del 2020.

Lo bueno es que las bolsas de comida le duran más a las familias y “son más asequibles para conseguir y conllevan menos embalaje, así que son más sustentables. A largo plazo hace sentido.”, dice Katrina Light, gerente de Alimentos Comunitarios en Farm Hub.

Everett Hodge Center, a través de Family of Woodstock, proveía usualmente alrededor de 150 cenas diarias a niños antes de la pandemia y continuará haciéndolo. Durante la pandemia, aumentaron su producción y proporcionaron 3,000 cenas a la semana. Hodge Center continúa trabajando con voluntarios de KEFC para distribuir comidas preparadas a individuos y familias de alta necesidad que viven en moteles y pensiones en el condado de Ulster.

Aunque no tenemos certezas respecto a la próxima fase de la pandemia, se puede asumir que el impacto del COVID-19 será duradero. Por el momento, la pandemia ha expuesto la vulnerabilidad del sistema de alimentación, sus grietas y fisuras. También incita a preguntarnos cómo abordar el acceso a la comida a largo plazo.

“Ahora que hemos tenido una pequeña oportunidad de prepararnos, el grupo está intentando resolver cambios sistemáticos a largo plazo. Creo que el condado de Ulster puede servir como un gran modelo para el resto del país”, dice Hereth que resalta el apoyo general a los agricultores y los canales activos de distribución. 

Hereth continuó: “Creo que todos estamos preguntándonos qué otras soluciones pueden haber para arreglar este sistema que está tan evidentemente quebrado. La gente necesita alimentos saludables y salarios decentes”. 

El panorama diario evoluciona a medida que la pandemia continúa. En junio la línea de emergencia recibió menos llamadas debido a que más personas regresaron a trabajar, aumentó el seguro por desempleo y los beneficios del Programa de Asistencia Nutricional Suplementaria, así como también el clima se tornó más cálido y más personas salieron a conseguir alimentos.

“La cosa está disminuyendo y estamos empezando a mirar hacia el futuro y cómo podemos reducir la inseguridad alimentaria en adelante”, dice Light.  

La fuerza de voluntarios sigue robusta con cerca de 50 voluntarios manejando la línea de emergencias, la coordinación de horarios y la entrega de alimentos varias veces a la semana. 

“Se necesita todo un pueblo para hacer esto. La mayoría son voluntarios y regresan una y otra vez”, dice Flynn. 

La experiencia ha sido positiva para todos los involucrados en KEFC. Trabajan bien en conjunto y saben que pueden hacer llegar los alimentos a aquellos que los necesiten durante una emergencia. Las organizaciones miembro dicen que esto las motiva a seguir abordando las raíces de la inseguridad alimentaria. En estos tiempos sin precedentes, KEFC es solo uno de muchos esfuerzos e iniciativas a lo largo del país que evidencian el poder de una comunidad fuerte. 

“Muchas personas han dado un gran paso adelante y esto es realmente un tributo a nuestra comunidad”, dice Berg. 

Ciertamente las crisis, con frecuencia, son catalizadoras del cambio permanente. 

 

–Amy Wu