October 21, 2021

A hungry community

Food distributions continue amid ongoing need

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Adam Clifford of the YMCA of Cortland hauls a box of fresh produce Thursday to one of many cars waiting for food and milk as part of a food giveaway. Hunger has tripled in Central New York in the past 15 months, and other need, too, as a totally free give-away event Tuesday shows.

Christella Yonta didn’t have much time to chat Thursday evening.

She had just been given the Warm Hands Award from the Cortland County Dairy Promotion Committee, and now she was back to work doing what she’s done many times in the past 15 months: giving away food and milk.

Several efforts, including one Tuesday, have popped up in the past 15 months to cope with hunger.

More than 50 vehicles lined up in rows on the other side of the parking lot at the former Homer Avenue Plaza.

Volunteers were hefting boxes of produce, milk, soap and hand sanitizer, ready to stuff them into trunks and back seats. It has been done so many times since the recession began in February 2020, followed soon after by the pandemic in March 2020, that the volunteers have it down to a well-rehearsed ballet.

Five lines of cars were condensed into two. Volunteers guided vehicles, four at a time, into the staging area. A quick question about how many families needed food, pop the hatch and deliver: fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and soap.

“We have 500 boxes,” said Yonta, executive director of the Cortland County United Way. “They’re all going to be gone.”

The food, provided by the Food Bank of Central New York, was delivered to meet a need that has, more or less, tripled since the start of the recession. That’s food bank figures; other efforts to help people through hard times have cropped up, too, from roadside kiosks filled with food and other products to routine give-aways other things people might need.

Tuesday evening, the Cortland County Mutual Aid plans its bimonthly Really Free Market, offering grocery items including frozen meat, eggs and vegetables, as well as household goods such as soap, toothpaste and toilet paper.

Really Free Market event

When: 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Food and Ferments parking lot, at 181 1/2 Main St., Cortland
Offered: Food, toiletries and cleaning products

“People should get food from wherever they can, whether that’s from the state, a nonprofit or from through their community,” said Dan Boucher, project lead for the Really Free Market.

“We could run this seven days a week, and it still wouldn’t be enough — that’s how great the need here is in this community.”

The grass-roots community organization helps to connect residents with one another and with organizations and resources. The Really Free Market receives donations from Ithaca’s No Mas Lagrimas non-profit, Main Street Farms and the Friendship Donations Network.

“We don’t put rules around what people can ask for or how much they can take,” Boucher said. “We don’t ask for names or addresses. They don’t have to prove their need — which is the standard for many state-funded non-profits, but we don’t do that. If you need something, you need something. That’s our ethic.”

Managing Editor Todd R. McAdam contributed to this report.