Schenectady County

Volunteerism an obvious choice for one local man

Larry Lewis, who volunteers with Concerned for the Hungry, is shown at his home in Scotia on Tuesday.
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Larry Lewis, who volunteers with Concerned for the Hungry, is shown at his home in Scotia on Tuesday.

It all sort of happened by accident.

It was 2004 and Larry Lewis was working as a research chemist at General Electric when his children reached the age when doing things with your parents had fallen out of fashion.  

In search of a way to fill the void, Lewis attended a board meeting for Concerned for the Hungry, a local nonprofit best known for its annual Thanksgiving food drive, which provides everything needed to prepare a proper holiday feast to thousands of Schenectady County households unable to cover the costs on their own.

Lewis had volunteered at the drive with his children for a number of years and wanted to learn more.

“I approached one of the board members and I said, ‘Hey, tell me more about your organization,’” he recalled.

When he arrived, the group was without a secretary and asked him to record the meeting minutes. When he showed up at the next meeting, the group, still without a secretary, asked him to again record the minutes. 

“I was slowly but surely being sucked in,” Lewis said. 

At the next meeting, the board voted to make Lewis the organization’s permanent secretary, and the Glenville resident hasn’t looked back since. 

In fact, Lewis has taken on a more prominent role at the organization over the years as a grant writer, helping to secure thousands in funding that has helped the organization continue its Thanksgiving food drive and host a number of other charitable drives throughout the year. 

Today, around a third of the organization’s $70,000 budget comes from grants. 

Lewis was among a handful of honorees recently recognized for their efforts at the Nonprofit Business Awards hosted by the Capital Region Chamber. The awards recognize the impact nonprofit organizations have on the community and the quality of life for citizens.

Now 67 and retired, Lewis manages to carve out a few hours each week to give back to the community. 

In addition to his work with Concerned for the Hungry, he teaches children to read and has extended his grant writing skills to help secure funding for other area nonprofits. He also volunteers with SiCM, where he helps deliver food and works in the pantry. 

It’s something that Lewis wishes more people like him would find the time to do. 

“I get a little frustrated with some of my fellow retirees that talk about the stuff that they do,” he said. “You can’t find an hour or two a week to help the community and the less fortunate? It just seems obvious.”  

Concerned for the Hungry recently completed its 42nd Thanksgiving drive, handing out boxes stuffed full of turkeys, stuffing and other fixings needed to prepare a proper Thanksgiving meal at home to more than 1,700 households throughout Schenectady County.

The drive takes place over six days, with volunteers working to organize pallets of food donated from community members and the Northeast Regional Food Bank into individual boxes for distribution.   

Concerned for the Hungry doesn’t have a year-round home, so the organization, which used to lease space from St. Luke’s Catholic Church, completes the drive from the gym of Keane Elementary School on Albany Street in Schenectady, the former home of the church’s parish school.

The building is still owned by St. Luke’s, but a carve-out in the lease agreement guarantees the organization access to the gym six days a year to complete the drive. 

“We make what I call a pop-up warehouse,” Lewis said. “We have a gymnasium and then suddenly it’s a food warehouse, and then we take it apart.”

It’s tough work that gets harder as the years go on, Lewis said.

The organization relies on volunteers, but the core group that oversees the Thanksgiving drive has been with the organization for decades in some cases. 

Lewis said finding willing candidates to step up to fill the leadership positions is one of the biggest problems facing the organization.

“Everyone’s a year older every year. You can’t fool father time,” he said. 

But while the organization continues to look for new leadership, Lewis plans to keep pushing forward.

“You got to keep yourself busy,” he said. 

For more information on Concerned for the Hungry, visit: concernedforthehungry.org.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold

 

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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