SCHENECTADY – People milled along Veeder Avenue near Vale Park like they usually do on Sunday, waiting to receive bags packed with life necessities.
But unlike a routine afternoon, folks were asked to stand 10 feet apart on spaces outlined by chalk marks scrawled onto the sidewalk.
“We’re going to move up one ‘X’ at a time,” Maura Furey told dozens of people waiting to pick up everything from hot food to things deodorant and toothpaste — even sleeping bags, if necessary.
One by one, people inched their way along Veeder Avenue into the Zion Lutheran Church parking lot, where an army of volunteers distributed the items from their vehicles onto tables and eventually, the canvas bags and outstretched arms of the visitors (and at least two banged-up shopping carts).
Street Soldiers hits the streets every Sunday afternoon to provide meals and essential items to whoever needs it, no questions asked.
Furey was precise with their reach:
Sixty-two volunteers presently serve 232 people. Some are homeless, others are just down on their luck, like Nott Street resident Rick Nelson, who said he was furloughed from a local building supply company on Friday.
Nelson previously volunteered with the group, helping to distribute 535 coats last winter.
Now he’s just picking up what he needs.
William Diggs has also worked with Street Soldiers.
“They take their heart and just do it,” Diggs said.
Diggs, who lives on Albany Street, said people in his neighborhood seemed to be supporting each other during a time that has brought significant hardship to many.
“It’s hectic,” he said. “What can you do? You get bored in the house and you try to help people the best you can.”
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which is now entering its sixth week, hasn’t crimped Street Soldiers’ efforts aside from relocating from their usual location at Vale Park in order to adhere to social distancing requirements.
“We have never missed a week since last February,” said Furey, who serves as the group’s Schenectady site coordinator.
Street Soldiers has a robust social media presence that they use to request high-demand items.
A big request this week was facial masks, which the state now requires people wear in public where social distancing isn’t possible.
Many people asked for masks on Sunday, which Furey and other volunteers distributed.
Afterwards, some people got back into their cars and drove off, but most ambled away with their hauls.
Furey said she is mindful that the rescue effort presents a risk to herself and other volunteers.
“I’m not going to say there’s no fear, but my fear of these people not getting food is far greater,” Furey said.