AMSTERDAM -- The original plan was to begin the food drop at 10:30 a.m., but that was before Mayor Michael Cinquanti saw the cars lined up on Locust Avenue.
"When you tell people 10:30 a.m., a lot of them showed up at 8 a.m., and there was no point in making them wait, and we didn't want people cutting in line," Cinquanti said of his decision to start the food distribution early.
Amid concerns about social distancing to help slow the spread of coronavirus, about 12 tons of food were distributed in less than an hour to 532 households at Veterans Park Friday.
The food, including meat, eggs, canned foods and staple grains, were given out in boxes and bags by about 100 volunteers — many of them city of Amsterdam employees from the Police, Fire,Recreation and DPW departments — partnered with the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York and the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany.
Sister Betsy Van Deusen, director of community partnerships for Catholic Charities, said her organization started doing monthly 12-ton food drops at different rotating locations in Fulton and Montgomery counties in 2018, usually feeding between 200 and 250 families. On Friday she said they were forced to cut food allotments basically in half to stretch the amount available for the number of people looking for food.
"There was more need than we anticipated, a lot more," she said.
City resident Gail Abatecola, 70, was among the first to show up the food drop. She walked from her house, as she typically does when she goes to the Route 30 Walmart in the town of Amsterdam.
"There's no bus anymore, and I don't have the money for a cab, so I walk, unless I can get a ride from somebody," she said.
Abatecola said she's afraid of contracting the virus, so she keeps hand sanitizer with her at all times. She praised the food drop for helping to solve one of her problems.
"It was phenomenal! It was outrageous! I couldn't believe the food they gave away," she said. "Whatever I don't plan to eat, I will give away to a little old lady."
Dozens of cars showed up at the food drop at 10:30 a.m. after all of the food had already been distributed. City residents Erieka Reali and Jerome Mickus were among the unlucky.
"I told her it'd be gone. I told her," Mickus said with frustration, half to Reali and half to anyone who would listen.
Reali said she understands why the food went so fast.
"The need is really big in this city, because there aren't too many jobs, and a lot of people are laid off, and the shelves are empty," she said.
The couple said they used to have employment working for a company that transports people to doctor appointments and group meetings. She said the social distancing requirements set by the governor put an end to the meetings. Now the couple is selling their belongings on Ebay to survive.
"I saved some money," he said.
"But it's going quick," she added.
Both said they were hopeful money provided by the federal stimulus package will provide them enough to get them through.
Many of the volunteers Friday wore N95 masks procured by District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell for Montgomery County's Emergency Management office.
The masks, which are currently in short supply worldwide, claim to filter out 95 percent of the particles in air, but have been controversial in their effectiveness against the COVID-19 virus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the masks are most helpful if the person wearing one has the virus and is exhibiting symptoms like coughing. Up to 80 percent of the people infected by the virus are believed to exhibit few to no symptoms while they remain capable of infecting others.
Many of the volunteers also wore gloves and practiced varying degrees of social distancing.
Cinquanti said the outbreak of COVID-19 has forced people physically apart when they most need to be coming together.
"Everybody worked their buns off today," he said of the volunteers. "It was a good thing, and we're going to do it again."
Van Deusen said the next food drop is planned for Centro Civico on April 27, and it will include the same 12-ton assortment of foods.
"We don't know who's coming until they show up, but it's always a mix of protein, produce, single-use items," she said.
Cinquanti extended the city's state of emergency Friday to April 14 after Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated he wants the state's public schools to stay closed until then.
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort issued the same extension of the county's state of emergency Friday. Both emergency declarations keep municipal offices closed and require only essential government employees to report to work, the rest being told to stay home.
City resident Chris Carpenter participated in the food drop and praised the nonprofit and county government officials that helped, including Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department, Centro Civico, the Amen Place Soup Kitchen and St. Mary's Healthcare.
"The fact that we had 100 volunteers here speaks volumes about Amsterdam — it doesn't matter whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, doesn't matter if you're black or white, when people need help, Amsterdam comes out," he said.
Cinquanti, Carpenter, Purtell and several police officers all said the announcement of the COVID-19 infection of first ward resident Dave Swart, a retired firefighter and owner of Dave's Dawgs, has touched them personally.
Pam Frollo Swart, a former WCSS talk show host and alderwoman candidate for the 1st Ward, has been providing social media updates on her husband's condition on Facebook.
Thursday night she announced Dave Swart's condition had taken a bad turn, asking her friends to pray. Shortly after that she said the prayers had been answered and his oxygen levels had improved, but the prior hour had been the scariest of her life.
Friday she provided a further update: "He’s still holding his own. They told me he will probably be on the ventilator no less than 16 days," she said.
"This is just the real hard reality of what this thing is like," Cinquanti said. "I wish this wasn't happening, but it's happening, and we need to pray for Dave Swart and his family."