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St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, at 40 Leedsville Road in Amenia Union, just built the Harvest House for its successful Food of Life/Comida de Vida Food Pantry, next to the mid-19th century brick church known for its bright red door. Here is Priest and Pantry Executive Director AJ Stack at the Harvest House’s dedication on Sunday, Nov. 22. Photo submitted

St. Thomas expands its food pantry

AMENIA UNION — Sometimes all it takes is a simple question to bring about a big change that can affect several hundred people. In this case, one such question led to a new building for the St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church Food of Life/Comida de Vida Food Pantry.

The church’s priest (and executive director of the pantry) AJ Stack said the spark came during the dog days of summer. Patrick Bergquist of the Episcopal Charities of the Diocese of New York was making a site visit. 

“We were having a conversation about the adaptive changes we had made for the virus,” said Stack, which included using the steep incline that needed to be navigated to get bags of food from the parish hall bursting with supplies to the open air distribution tables. 

Stack said that he was asked, “‘So what are you going to do when winter comes?’ We just got a deer in the headlights look and said, ‘Oh! That’s our next job — to figure out what to do when winter comes.’”

Work on the project to construct a building for the busy food pantry — which provides needed storage while keeping both visitors and volunteers safe and warm — began in August. 

Since its inception 11 years ago, the church’s pantry has been a source of help, mainly for the working poor — many of whose jobs were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Three days of supplies (food and household items) are given to families each week with no residency requirements or other questions asked. 

In March, 181 people per week were served. With the advent of COVID-19, that number doubled to 374 weekly and has settled to an average of 325 per week — with no reduction anticipated anytime soon. 

Stack emphasized that the building “has been fully funded by generous grants and donors … so any donations made at this point would go to the general fund that helps the pantry run.”

The building (which holds 20,000 pounds worth of food) was designed by Wassaic architect and volunteer Leo Blackman. Stack also credits Ducillo Construction Company for the swift completion of the project. 

An official building dedication will take place on Sunday, Nov. 22. Due to COVID-19, it will be limited to only a few invited attendees. With the final electrical touches on the pantry building completed on Friday, food distribution is shifting immediately from the Parish Hall to the new site on the church property at 40 Leedsville Road in Amenia Union.

Every Friday from 1:30 to 5 p.m., some 30 rotating volunteers — up from the previous eight to 12 volunteers — will continue to fill bags as one checks the requests of clients, which more often than not include families with children who rely on the pantry as a source of good nutrition necessary for growth. Another volunteer brings the bagged items to an outside table that is sanitized as soon as the items are transferred to the recipient.

Support for the pantry also comes from St. Peter’s in Lithgow, Grace Church in Millbrook, Congregation Beth David in Amenia, Sharon Congregational Church in Connecticut, The Millbrook School, the Wassaic Volunteer Fire Department and a number of local schools.

For more information or to donate to the Food of Life/Comida de Vida Food Pantry, go to www.stthomasamenia.com or call 845-373-9161.

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