JOHNSTOWN — The food needs of Fulton County were on display Monday as vehicles lined up in the Johnstown Junior Senior High School for the mass food distribution event organized by Catholic Charities.
The food drop included 16 pallets of food, roughly enough for 630 households.
Approximately 70 volunteers assisted with the food distribution, loading boxes of food and personal care items onto vehicles, often trucks or minivans collecting food for multiple households. Many of the volunteers were members of the Johnstown Teachers Association, as well as about a dozen students.
The mass distribution in Johnstown was the 106th conducted throughout the 16 counties encompassed by the Diocese of Albany since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Sister Betsy Van Deusen, director of Community Partnership for Catholic Charities.
Van Deusen said pandemic food drops grew out of a program her organization started in 2018 called the Catholic Charities Mobile Outreach vehicle Extension program, or “CC MOVE” which sought to connect the food resources of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York with people in need. She said the CC MOVE program started in Fulton and Montgomery counties.
“The Diocese of Albany covers 14 counties and those counties had the highest incidence of poverty, so we started where the need was greatest,” she said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, using statistics from 2019, 16.4% of Fulton County residents live below the poverty line and 15.9% of Montgomery County residents live in poverty, significantly higher rates than Schenectady County (12.1%), Albany County (11.7%) and Saratoga County (6%).
The coronavirus pandemic has increased the need for food tremendously, Van Deusen said. She said during the first full year of the CC MOVE program it helped to provide food for 5,366 households in the Diocese of Albany , but in 2020 that number jumped to 125,000 households, which received 14 million tons of food. She said, so far in 2021, CC MOVE is on pace to more than double that amount, having provided food for 65,000 households by the beginning of April.
One of the sources of the food being distributed is the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Farmers to Families Food Box program, part of the $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program passed in 2020, which included authority for the USDA to purchase and distribute up to $3 billion of agricultural products to those in need.
The food box program helps to address the lack of demand for American agricultural products since so many restaurants being shut down, Van Deusen said. The government buys the food from farmers, she said, and then provides work for distribution and packaging companies to create the boxes, which are then distributed at mass food drops alongside the pallets of food Catholic Charities normally distributes.
“The Farm to Family boxes are already packed, and this time they contained a gallon of milk, a block of cheese, hot dogs, apples, potatoes, onions, sour cream,” she said. “Each time it’s different and the contractors are different and who the food banks can get food from are different, so, from the food banks perspective it’s a little more complicated, and in terms of storage it takes a lot more space to store food that way than on pallets.”
In addition to food, the Johnstown High School Student Council also organized personal care packages, which were given to people. The effort was spearheaded by the faculty advisers for the student council.
“We had about 8 boxes of those essential products, we’re talking about shampoo, soap, feminine products, anything they thought would be essential for families,” said Johnstown High School Principal Scott Hale.
Nancy Lisicki, president of the Johnstown Teachers Association, also distributed free books purchased by the union to families with children at home.