Since 2017, the Amen Place Soup Kitchen has been operating as a food pantry at 105 Guy Park Ave., providing food for between 150 and 300 families every week on Tuesdays.
That was before the coronavirus pandemic hit, prompting New York state to shut down the “nonessential” parts of its economy to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Karl Andrzejczyk, who co-founded the nonprofit with his wife, Christine Andrzejczyk in 2001, said the need for food in the Amsterdam-area has increased dramatically since the shutdown started on March 20.
“We’re now serving over 700 families,” he said. “So, it’s tripled the number of clients looking for the food that we provide to get through this tough time we’re going through.”
Karl Andrzejczyk said the Amen Place Soup Kitchen started out by preparing warm meals for the needy at the old St. Casimir’s Church on East Main Street. Three years ago, it started operating as a food pantry, collecting food from the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York and distributing it on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. or whenever the food runs out.
On Wednesday, Amen Place received a walk-in freezer and cooler combination that had been donated by local political leaders and businesses to help the organization store more food.
District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell said he and Amsterdam Mayor Michael Cinquanti helped organize a fundraising campaign to purchase the used freezer/cooler combo from a location in Windham, Conn.
He said a large donation from NBT Bank, matched by the United Way of Montgomery County, Fage Yogurt in Johnstown, and donations from himself and Cinquanti, helped raise approximately $12,000 to purchase the cooler/freezer unit.
“They had been working out of little, individual stand-up freezers that you would have in your basement or something, so we decided to raise money for this,” Purtell said.
Purtell said he was able to get a collection of labor unions that helped to transport and install the cooler/freezer. He said these labor unions did the work:
- Teamsters Local 294 agreed to transport the disassembled freezer
- Laborers Local 230 of Hartford, Conn., agreed to provide the labor to load the materials onto the trailer
- Albany Teamsters 294 and the Teamsters organization transported the materials to 105 Guy Park Ave.
- LIUNA Laborers 157 of Schenectady donated their time and labor to unload the materials from the trailer
- Sheet Metal Workers Local 83 agreed to do the assembly work required to build the 15-foot by 21-foot combination cooler/freezer upon delivery
- Plumbers Local 7 of Albany agreed to make the refrigeration piping connections as well as charging the refrigerant.
Andrzejczyk said the new cooler/freezer allows his organization to go from a frozen food storage capacity of about 2,000 pounds to about 6,000 pounds. He said the cooler storage will also be about 30 to 40 percent greater than before.
He said the Amen Place Soup Kitchen provides bags and boxes of enough food to feed a family of four, three meals a day, for four days, which works out to 48 meals per week. Now that the number of families coming to the food pantry has increased to around 700, that equates to providing food for 2,800 people.
“It takes all week to collect enough food for 700 families,” he said. “This will allow us to store more frozen food, which most of the things that we pick up are frozen and we’re only limited by the size of the freezer space that we have, and a lot of times we just can’t take it because we just don’t have the room to be able to get that frozen meat product. The plus of having a much larger freezer space is we’ll be able to get a lot more lean meat, and good food for our clients, and on top of that this will have a walk-in freezer.”
Andrzejczyk said in addition to the need for food increasing, the distribution of food to people at the soup kitchen has also changed due to the virus.
“Before the virus came, we basically allowed clients to come in and take the products — the breads, a lot of grains, health foods, a lot of fruits, vegetables, meat, and there is always dairy — but with the virus it’s just not safe, so we changed all of our distribution to right outside at our parking lot,” he said. “So cars can pull-in, open the truck or doors, and we’ll put a bag or a box of food inside the vehicle for them.”
Andrzejczyk said he’s glad his organization has increased its food storage capacity, because he just doesn’t know what the need will be in the future. He said his organization relies on about 30 volunteers to help it distribute food, and on donations, about $20,000 per year to help pay its utility and rent costs.
Individuals interested in donating to Amen Place Soup Kitchen, which is a 501(c)3 corporation, can write checks to the Amen Place Soup Kitchen, 105 Guy Park Ave. He said the pantry also accepts non-perishable food donations.