How to give back to the community this holiday season

For many, the holiday season is a time to give back to the community and show appreciation for 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 are in need of volunteers and donations.

Volunteers Xinyi Shen, 17, left, Chisanupong Chapanon, 17, center, and Andrew Guo, 17, right, all from Cornwall, look at food labels to sort them into categories at the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley in Cornwall-on-Hudson on November 11 2021.

Volunteers Xinyi Shen, 17, left, Chisanupong Chapanon, 17, center, and Andrew Guo, 17, right, all from Cornwall, look at food labels to sort them into categories at the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley in Cornwall-on-Hudson on November 11 2021.

Food insecurity

When the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, an estimated 35 million people were food insecure across the country, Sarah Jean, director of the Hudson Valley Food Bank, said. Now that the pandemic has affected nearly every part of our lives, from education and work to the economy, that number has jumped by nearly 5 million people, John said.

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This number includes people here in our local communities, some of whom visited a food pantry for the first time ever during the pandemic.

“The need for food is now greater than ever,” John said.

Food insecurity is something that people with pets also face, said Becky Tejesse, executive director of Pets Alive, a nonprofit animal shelter in Middletown.

“We are always in need of food – not only do we need to feed the animals residing here but we also run a pet stocking program where people can get dog and cat food,” Tejezy said.

Pets Alive in Middletown welcomes donations of pet food, bedding, blankets, and recyclable items that you can make against a deposit fee.  It is also looking for volunteers in person who will be trained to work at the shelter.

Pets Alive in Middletown welcomes donations of pet food, bedding, blankets, and recyclable items that you can make against a deposit fee. It is also looking for volunteers in person who will be trained to work at the shelter.

Another organization that helps people connect with emergency food stores is Family of Woodstock, a non-profit organization that specializes in intervention in crises including homelessness, finding child care, domestic violence situations, and health and mental health care.

According to its website, Family of Woodstock food stores served more than 140,000 meals through their stores last year, including an additional 50,000 meals at the agency’s emergency shelters.

Loaves of donated bread, English muffins, and sweet potato pies wait to be sorted by volunteers at the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley in Cornwall-on-Hudson on November 11, 2021.

Loaves of donated bread, English muffins, and sweet potato pies wait to be sorted by volunteers at the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley in Cornwall-on-Hudson on November 11, 2021.

Volunteering, and other ways to help

While most organizations welcome masked volunteers, especially during the holiday season, they recognize that not everyone may feel comfortable doing so at this time. This is where supplies, food, and financial donations can come in.

Some of the much-needed donations to the Hudson Valley Food Bank include canned soup, cereal, pasta, and canned tuna or chicken and juice. The organization also needs personal hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, feminine products, diapers and wipes.

“We distribute the materials to member agencies that help those in need,” Gun said. “Some are homeless shelters, some are poor kitchens and some are large housing sites for low-income people.”

Volunteers spend time in the Cornwall-on-Hudson Food Bank warehouse sorting out donations from the community and from other partners like farms and grocery stores.

At Family of Woodstock, volunteers are needed for a variety of programs, from the food pantry to crisis hotlines.

Volunteer Brennan Burns, 15, from Cornwall moves a loaded crate of sorted food to a pallet at the Hudson Valley Food Bank in Cornwall-on-Hudson on November 11, 2021.

Volunteer Brennan Burns, 15, from Cornwall moves a loaded crate of sorted food to a pallet at the Hudson Valley Food Bank in Cornwall-on-Hudson on November 11, 2021.

Donations of money and 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.

Tejezy said that since the pandemic began, new volunteers at Pets Alive have been scattered. But fortunately, they have a dedicated group of about 30 people who visit the shelter weekly to help.

“The number of new volunteers has dropped dramatically,” Tejesse said. “We limit our volunteer orientations to 10 people at a time because we work with animals and there is a lot of safety that people have to understand. We used to have a waiting list for volunteers, now we only have about three or four people per direction.”

Besides volunteering in person, people can donate spare blankets and covers and can bring recyclable cans and bottles to the shelter, where they collect them for bottle deposits to raise money for the animals.

“We live off donations only, so it’s the community that keeps our doors open,” Tejezy said.

Another way to help, Tejezy said, is to follow pets on social media and share posts about adoptable animals with your friends and family to help increase the number of people viewing the posts.

“Just sharing our posts on Facebook to find the homes of these animals plays a big part,” Tejezy 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 about volunteering and donating to the organizations mentioned in this story, visit foodbankofthehudsonvalley.org, familyofwoodstockinc.org and petsalive.com.

Kristen Warfield is the food and business reporter for the Times Herald-Record. Find my stories here. You can reach me at kwarfield@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on the Times Herald-Record: Hudson Valley Nonprofits Accepting Vacation Aid This Season

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