SCHENECTADY — For the first time in six weeks, traffic snarled downtown streets on Wednesday.
Everyone was headed to the same place: A drive-thru food distribution at SUNY Schenectady organized by the county’s Emergency Response Coalition.
Upon entering the college’s parking lot, motorists opened their trunks and made their way through a series of 14 stations, where volunteers offered everything from whole chickens to produce.
The event was held in addition to the daily deliveries facilitated by the coalition based on calls to their hotline.
“It’s another option to get food out into the community,” said Jason Lecuyer, coordinator of the county’s central food and supply distribution site at the Boys & Girls Club.
Volunteers were in good spirits despite gale-force winds whipping through the parking lot, scattering pamphlets and rattling teeth.
“Thank you so much,” said a woman from a cracked window. “You’re warriors and soldiers — it’s freezing.”
“Do you need anything?” asked Bob Carreau, executive director of the Schenectady Foundation.
She didn’t, and the car crept to the next station, where she received a sack of potatoes and was sent on her way.
Many people told volunteers they were collecting food for multiple families.
At least one car contained people with laminates identifying themselves as Ellis Medicine staffers.
Altogether, the Regional Food Bank provided 40,000 pounds of food.
The economy has taken a beating by the coronavirus pandemic, and vehicles snaking their way through the checkouts ranged from brand-new GMC sport utility vehicles with gleaming rims to battered pickup trucks.
Carreau said maybe not everyone is seeking donations because of financial distress.
Some may be simply avoiding going to supermarkets out of an abundance of caution, he said.
“There’s a lot of fear,” Carreau said.
For others, the need is acute.
Some people in the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods may lack proper utensils — or kitchen tables — even in the best of times, Carreau said. Some resort to cooking with a microwave, which is why officials try to ensure the packages contain a wide variety of items, he said.
Anyone who came was served, no questions asked.
At the end of the line, motorists were topped off with face masks, a pamphlet containing a list of county services and while supplies lasted, a Domino’s pizza.
The county didn’t collect names, only zip codes, which will give officials a better idea of where the need for services breaks out throughout the county.
“It’s what we wanted, to make sure everyone has access to our resources that are out there,” said William Rivas, whose Save Our Streets team delivered 150 pizzas earlier Wednesday.
Altogether, 55 representatives from 29 organizations, all members of the county’s Emergency Response Coalition, volunteered on Wednesday.
“If we don’t work together, we won’t survive this,” said Kim Siciliano, CEO of the YWCA NorthEastern NY.
Siciliano also wanted to set an example for her three sons, one of whom was manning the pallet of potatoes.
By 5:30 p.m., an uninterrupted line of vehicles stretched from SUNY Schenectady to MVP Health Center, a mile-long stretch of State Street.
Officials planned for 500 vehicles, but by 7:30 p.m., officials counted 600 cars, with more still in line.
“This is awesome,” Siciliano said as she surveyed the operation, which had an air of determination.
She turned around and gazed at the bumper-to-bumper traffic along Gateway Landing and vehicles streaming in from I-890.
“But it’s sad to see that there’s so much need.”