In summer, while many people are enjoying summer vacations and time off from work, there remains a desperate need for volunteers to help those less fortunate.
The Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, which is responsible for servicing 1,120 agencies and 23 different counties, finds that it gets the fewest number of volunteers in the summer months than any other time of the year.
“It’s difficult because everyone comes in around the holiday season, which we appreciate very much, but we say here that hunger doesn’t take a vacation,” said Director of Food Industry Relations Joanne Dwyer.
Once food donations are received at the food bank on Albany Shaker Road, the next step is having the volunteers sort the items, which are then shipped out and donated to different agencies. In 2013, the Food Bank distributed 30.4 million pounds of food. The nonprofit depends on volunteers to keep costs down. Last year 11,500 volunteers gave a helping hand. To work without volunteers, the organization would have to hire 25 full-time employees.
“We’re lucky the food keeps coming in, and the donors are generous all year long,” said Associate Director Tracey Martin. “Sadly, hunger also keeps going all year long, but our volunteer pool dips.”
The volunteers sort the food that comes in from stores like Hannaford, Price Chopper, WalMart, Target, Shoprite and others. They get rid of bad food, organize the perishable and non-perishable food and box the items up to be shipped back out.
The Food Bank also has a partnership with the Patroon Land Foundation, where there is a farm that has grown more than 650,000 pounds of produce. The farm also requires volunteers to pick vegetables and sort food.
“In the summer, we operate a farm out near Thacher Park, and that relies on tons of volunteers as well. So not only do we have holes to fill here, we have all new slots out in the fields,” said Martin.
The organization also provides bag lunches to kids that normally get lunches at school but don’t get them when school is not in session. The backpack program provides kids with a backpack of food on Friday so they can eat over the weekend.
“We have the backpack program, and we have the sack lunch program because kids in schools who would otherwise get subsidized lunches don’t get that in the summer and oftentimes don’t eat. So we provide those at schools for kids to come and they get their lunch,” said volunteer coordinator, Ellie Zehnder.
The help is more important than ever because over the past three years, the amount of salvage coming in is up 70 percent. While the main business is food, they also take in back-to-school supplies and clothes.
“We also get clothing items, brand new. We don’t send out used clothing. A lot of it is women’s clothing and makeup that we give to domestic violence shelters. The women are starting over and reentering the workforce and need clothes, and we can provide them such things,” said Zehnder.
More information on volunteering and how to sign up can be found at regionalfoodbank.net.