Albany County

Watervliet t-shirt fundraiser takes off, helps feed community

‘Vliet Never Gives Up’ uses proceeds to buy restaurant gift cards, donates them to local families in need
Amanda Cavanaugh created the fundraiser “Vliet Never Gives Up,” which supports local restaurants and families in need.
Amanda Cavanaugh created the fundraiser “Vliet Never Gives Up,” which supports local restaurants and families in need.

WATERVLIET — Amanda Cavanaugh has spent the past two years involved in the Watervliet City School District, both as a board of education member and as the current vice president of the parent-teacher association.

As the COVID-19 crisis developed, she and Meg Fronczek created the “We Care Vliet” Facebook page and began fundraising for families in need. Through the sale of T-shirts printed with the phrase “Vliet Never Gives Up,” Cavanaugh has taken the proceeds and purchased gift cards from local restaurants in Watervliet, and donated them to families within the school district.

“I wanted to provide them with something that could make them happy,” said Cavanaugh, whose program had sold 750 shirts and raised more than $13,000 as of mid-April.


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Cavanaugh is employed as an outreach manager for Compassion & Choices New York, an organization looking to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act, and also stays busy taking care of her two children along with her wife, Carol.

In the middle of all that, Cavanaugh made time for a phone interview with The Gazette to discuss how she helped make sure “Vliet Never Gives up” was more than a slogan.

Q: When did the “Vliet Never Gives Up” program come into your mind?

A: At the end of March, shortly after things really started to shut down. The worry of closing schools and our children not being able to eat is real. Whenever our superintendent has to make decisions, whether it’s a snow day or closing the school in this circumstance, the conversation around kids eating, getting heat and having a safe place to go is always at the forefront of the conversation.

I’ve helped phone banks and answer phones whenever they do the Backpack Heroes program, so I knew that it wasn’t just providing breakfast and lunch throughout the week. It was also this group of 100-plus families in Watervliet who get these backpacks of food every weekend. I started thinking how my family, if we want to order a pizza for dinner on a Friday night, we don’t have to worry about it.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Q: When did you become aware of the number of families in need of the school district’s food plan?

A: Besides being on the board and the PTA, I also coach and run the cheer program in the city. My wife and I have just taken over the basketball program. We’ve certainly become more exposed to it. Our schools superintendent [Lori Caplan] has always made it clear that we have a need here in our community and where our priorities should be. In the last few years, I knew there was a struggle.

Q: How do you manage the release of your gift cards to families in need?

A: I knew in our “Food is Fuel” program that there are about 100 families. I don’t know individually who those families are. The administrators’ dedication has been on the front lines, taking those phone calls from families that need help and making sure that they are getting what they need. People can be embarrassed about needing help, so they have a relationship with our administrators. They [the school district] tell me and [Facebook page administrator] Meg Fronczek what they need.

Q: Where did the slogan of “Vliet Never Gives Up” come from?

A: It’s a city motto after Dan Reinfurt passed away, a football coach in the city. People would always say it. My wife Carol was born and raised here in Watervliet, and it was something that always resonated with her. She thought it was important to bring that back.

Q: Did all your funds come from T-shirt sales?

A: We’ve had some people just write checks. They buy a $15 T-shirt and give us $20 or different things like that. We’ve also had five donations that were $500, which is amazing.

Many of these people are in the community and they are not on the front lines begging for media attention.

They just do it because they see it’s the right thing to do. They’re in the city, they see the families struggling and they’re just giving back.

Q: Are T-shirts being purchased by people outside of Watervliet?

A: There are people that I am mailing shirts to in Syracuse, Florida and other places in the country. There are people who left Watervliet but they graduated from Watervliet, or they were here for a period and they just continue to bleed garnet. They’re still giving back to the community even though they might not be here right now. They still care about what happens here.

Q: What was your original fundraising goal?

A: My hope was that we would sell maybe 200 T-shirts. Obviously, selling 750 has been way over my wildest dreams. I’m so thankful to be able to use this money in our city and give back. It’s such a win-win [because] we’ve only purchased from Watervliet restaurants, and it gives our students the opportunity to do something they may have never been able to do before.

Q: Have you adjusted your fundraising goals now?

A: My goal was if I can get every single one of those families a $25 gift card, I would have been happy. Now it looks like each of those families may get two or three of those gift cards.

Q: Have you made changes to the original plan?

A: Last week, Dr. Caplan said, “These restaurant gift cards are great, but I have some families that need groceries. Do you think we could do some Price Chopper gift cards?” Since then, we’ve collected 92 Price Chopper gift cards to give to families.

Q: How do you maintain social distancing during your T-shirt sales and gift card drop-off?

A: I would hate to be someone who was asymptomatic and then having people in and out of my home or vice versa. We’ve been really big on making sure people get their T-shirts from a table in our front yard and not having any contact. We just wave from the window and we thank people, and just hope that they understand that for the safety of everyone it’s best not to be up close and personal.

Q: How long do you plan to keep on fundraising?

A: I wonder what else there will be to do? We switched gears with the T-shirts and we started collecting donations for gift cards.

I don’t know if the answer is T-shirts. Meg Fronczek on the “We Care Vliet” Facebook page started posting recipes that are cheaper to make that will feed big families, lasagna, spaghetti, etc. We are trying to talk through and think of ways to spread out the money, and make it last through these difficult times.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Q: Have you seen your “Vliet Never Gives Up” program impact other communities?

A: Corinth picked up this idea and is rolling with it. They are selling T-shirts in Corinth that say, “Corinth is Community,” and I encourage other school districts or community members to do the same thing. If there is a way to give back to local restaurants and make sure that our students are fed, I think [it] is important. I hope everyone duplicates what we did here. Anybody can do it. It just takes a couple people that care, and I hope that it pushes forward.

Categories: News, Rising to the Challenge, Special Sections

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