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Nearly 10 Percent Of Rockland’s Population Does Not Get Enough To Eat
By Tina Traster
Since 2013, nearly 10 percent of Rockland County’s residents struggled to get enough food on the table for their families. In 2021, the numbers remained at the same level, reflecting a continuation of hard times and the volatile impacts the pandemic has had on the county’s most vulnerable for the last four years. In fact, one in ten adults experience food insecurity, while one our of seven children face the same hardship in the Hudson Valley.
Food insecurity is a significant societal issue. In 2021, Rockland food insecurity rates were 9 percent — higher than Dutchess (8.3 percent), Putnam (5.3 percent), and Orange (7.8 percent), counties. Ulster County’s rate was slightly higher at 9.5 percent, while Sullivan County topped out at 11.4 percent, on par with the state average.
There are roughly 60 organizations in Rockland County, including churches, food pantries, and community groups, serving the hungry.
These organizations, no doubt, are pleased to hear the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, a distribution center for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern, NY, is underway with a relocation and building of a facility that will double the size of its current location and make the storage and delivery of food more efficient.
“The need has been growing; we have surpassed COVID numbers,” said Joyce Donohue, director of the Sloatsburg Food Pantry, which gives out 30,000 pounds of food per month. “We are seeing more seniors who can’t afford to live on monthly checks. We’re seeing more people who are unemployed or working multiple jobs.”
Donohue says the larger facility should help the pantry because it will be able to stock a greater amount and diversity of food.
“We’d like to provide families in need of low salt, low sugar and gluten free diets,” she said. “These are more expensive but we’re hoping that this will be possible with the larger facility.”
The food bank in Cornwall-on-Hudson, founded in 1996, has been the depot for Rockland, Orange, Ulster, Delaware, Dutchess, Sullivan, and Putnam’s 150,000 hungry families who rely on food banks monthly. In 2022, the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern, NY sold the 55,000-square-foot building for $1.4 million and has been leasing back 20,000 square feet for its operations. The building had originally been donated to the organization in 1996.
In the meantime, the food bank purchased six acres of land in Montgomery in Orange County for $1.2 million, with the intent of building a 40,000 square-foot distribution center. The land was sold by the hay seller Aden Logistics, which gifted $635,000 to the food bank for the new facility. Aden Logistics will continue its operations on site.
The Regional Food Bank broke ground in May, hiring the Baxter company of Poughkeepsie as the lead contractor on the job. The nonprofit had already scored a $10.7 million Community Development Block Grant from New York State to fund the project, as well as raising another $1.4 million in 2021.
Now the organization is seeking funding for a $6.5 million capital campaign to round out its estimated construction costs of $21 million for the project.
The capital campaign, called “Growing to Feed Our Community” aims to raise funds over the next several months. If the project stays on track, the new facility is expected to open summer 2024. John Rath, executive vice president & Chief Lending Officer at Lakeland Bank and an advisory board member of the food bank is heading up the Capital Campaign Committee.
“We are well on our way with the project,” said Sara Gunn, director of the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley. “The current facility in Cornwall-on-Hudson, which has been operating tirelessly since 1996, provides 20 million pounds of food annually to tens of thousands of individuals and families facing hunger in the Hudson Valley. But it can no longer handle the growing demand and changing landscape of food insecurity.”
The new building, Gunn said, will provide increased capacity to obtain, sort, store and distribute food donations in the region. The current facility’s limited size means that food is often distributed to the nonprofit’s Latham office in Albany County and then trucked from there. With the new facility, food “will be drop-shipped to us directly,” said Gunn.
The nonprofit has long outgrown its Cornwall-on-Hudson facility.
In 2019, it distributed 16 million pounds of food in the Hudson Valley. The number shot up to 22 million by the end of 2020 and remains around 20 million in recent years. In 2022, thefood bank distributed 2,052,007 pounds of food to Rockland’s agency partners. As of May 2023, the bank had distributed 2,044,869 pounds of food to Rockland agency partners — indicating an upward trend toward increased hunger.
“We didn’t have the space here,” said Gunn. “Nearly 58 percent of the food is distributed from our headquarters in Latham. With the new facility, we’ll take back responsibility for distributing 12 million pounds of food.”
The new facility will also create 10 to 20 additional warehouse jobs, according to the food bank.
The Regional Food Bank of Northeastern NY collects donated food from the food industry and distributes it to nearly 900 charitable agencies in 23 of New York’s northeastern counties. The Food Bank of Hudson Valley distributes food to 285 partners across the six Hudson Valley counties.
Contributions to the Capital Campaign can be made online at foodbankofhudsonvalley.org or mailed to the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley at 195 Hudson Street, Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY 12520.