Unsung Heroes – Community Food Pantry Volunteers Making a Difference

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by Tom Pedulla – 

Margaret Black points to her Irish heritage in explaining her work to eliminate hunger as one of the driving forces behind the Community Food Pantry of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown.

“We were a country where people were starving,” she said, “and came to this country to eat.”

The Food Pantry was founded in December 2009 and evolved to the point where it emphasizes healthy, high-nutrition choices when food is distributed out of a basement space at Christ Episcopal Church in Tarrytown.

Oatmeal, rice, beans, pasta, tuna fish, peanut butter, fresh fruit and vegetables, frozen meat and fish and cooking oil are among the items regularly made available when doors open from 8:30-10:30 a.m. and from 6-7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month.

The Food Pantry served 255 families in January – Black said that easily translates to 1,000 individuals – and 37 people who are homebound and receive deliveries. Emergency supplies are available. Those being served over time must document that they live locally; a referral form must be completed to demonstrate the number of people in each family. No financial information or proof of citizenship is required.

When the Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow Farmer’s Market (TaSH) is open, clients are given tokens to help them purchase food there.

“I just don’t think anybody should go hungry and, in this country, it’s appalling that anybody would go hungry,” said Black.  She works as vice president of operations at Allan M. Block Agency, Inc., which deals in personal and business insurance.

The Food Pantry is funded through various grants and through the generosity of local restaurants and individuals. When a new freezer was needed last year, an anonymous donor stepped forward in two hours. The effort is comprised entirely of volunteers.

Rachelle Gebler, president of the Food Pantry, said of Black, “She has been a long-time volunteer. She is very conscientious. She cares deeply for the organization and the clients that we serve. She’s certainly a pleasure to work with. She has a wonderful attitude and is really collaborative. She always has great ideas for improving the work we’re doing.”

The Board of Directors is composed of Gebler as president, The Rev. Susan Copley, vice president; Ken Johnson, treasurer; Janice Landrum, secretary; Jim Husslebee and Black.

Black and others are convinced there is a significant need for the Food Pantry because clients typically line up two hours ahead of the scheduled opening.

“These are all our neighbors. Most of them are hardworking people just like all of us,” Black said. “This helps give them a little more to put to rent or whatever their expenses are. Westchester is not an easy place to live.”

Black is a past president of the Rotary Club of the Tarrytowns. She is concerned that Social Security payments may not be adequately covering the needs of local senior citizens and wants to see the Food Pantry connect with as many of them as possible.

“I can truly appreciate a person’s pride,” Black said. “Having said that, when people are picking a bottle of Tylenol over dinner or lunch or breakfast, that’s where we’re at and that’s not where we should be. In this country, that should not be the case.”

The Hudson Independent presents “Unsung Heroes,” a series of articles profiling those who provide extraordinary service to the communities in the readership area. To suggest someone for this feature, please email us at editor@thehudsonindependent.com.

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