The holiday season, for many, is a time to give back to the community and show appreciation to organizations that help those in need.
From food banks to animal shelters, there are dozens of nonprofits in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties working hard to serve the community – and this year, more than ever, they need volunteers and donations.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, an estimated 35 million people were food insecure across the country, said Sara Gunn, director of the Hudson Valley Food Bank. Now that the pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, from schooling and work to the economy, that number has jumped by nearly 5 million people, Gunn said.
That number includes people here in our local communities, some of whom visited a pantry for the first time during the pandemic.
âThe need for food is greater than ever,â Gunn said.
That same food insecurity is also an issue people with pets face, said Becky Tegze, executive director of Pets Alive, a non-profit animal shelter in Middletown.
âWe always need food – we not only need to feed our resident animals here, but we also have a pet pantry program where people can buy dog ââand cat food,â Tegze said.
Family of Woodstock is another organization that helps people connect with emergency pantries.
According to its website, Family of Woodstock pantries have distributed more than 140,000 meals to its pantries in the past year, including an additional 50,000 meals in the agency’s emergency shelters.
Volunteering, other ways to help
While most organizations welcome masked volunteers in person, especially during the holiday season, they recognize that not everyone may be comfortable doing so at this time. This is where supplies, food, and monetary donations can come in.
Some of the most needed donations for the Hudson Valley Food Bank include canned soup, cereal, pasta, canned tuna, or chicken and juice. The organization also needs personal hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste, feminine products, diapers and wipes.
âWe distribute the items to member agencies that help those in need,â Gunn said. “Some are homeless shelters, some are soup kitchens and some are residential sites for low-income seniors.”
Volunteers spend time at the food bank warehouse in Cornwall-on-Hudson sorting donations from the community and other partners like farms and grocery stores.
At Family of Woodstock, volunteers are needed for a variety of programs, from the pantry to emergency lines.
Monetary donations as well as household items are always welcome at Family of Woodstock, which plays a huge role in ensuring that people in the community have a place to live. The organization accepts everything from mattresses and sheets to strollers and cribs.
Since the start of the pandemic, new Pets Alive volunteers have been scarce, Tegze said. But luckily, they have a dedicated group of around 30 people who visit the shelter every week to help.
âThe number of new volunteers has dropped dramatically,â Tegze said. âWe limit our volunteering directions to 10 people at a time because we work with animals and there is a lot about safety that people need to understand. We had a waiting list for volunteers, and now we only have about three or four people per orientation. “
In addition to volunteering in person, people can donate spare blankets and sheets and can bring recyclable cans and bottles to the shelter, where they collect them for bottle depots to raise funds for the animals. .
âWe only survive on donations, so it’s the community that keeps our doors open,â Tegze said.
Another way to help, Tegze said, is to follow Pets Alive on social media and share adoptable animal posts with your friends and family to help increase the number of people who see the posts.
âJust sharing our posts on Facebook to find these animal homes does a big part,â Tegze said.
No matter where or how you choose to contribute to the community this holiday season, donations and volunteers are always welcome. For more information on volunteering and giving to the organizations mentioned in this story, visit foodbankofthehudsonvalley.org, familyofwoodstockinc.org and petsalive.com.
Kristen Warfield is the Times Herald-Record food and business reporter. Find my stories here. Contact me at [email protected]