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Kent April 15, 2021

Community pulls together to find Willow Roots a home

The Millerton News Editorial

Rarely do we report on a story that pulls at the heartstrings and then have the pleasure of following up with a happy ending, but such is the case with the Willow Roots food pantry in Pine Plains. 

This February, The Millerton News featured front page articles by reporters Kaitlin Lyle and Carol Kneeland about how pantry co-founders Lisa and Nelson Zayas were facing complaints from neighbors on Carla Terrace that Willow Roots, which had been distributing food from 11 a.m. till noon off their front porch at 23 North Main St. every Saturday morning for the past two years, was creating a traffic disturbance and was not properly permitted to operate the pantry. 

The Zayases’ residential property borders North Main Street and Carla Terrace, and has legal driveways on both roads. Some of its Carla Terrace neighbors were not pleased with the commotion created by food deliveries during the week and the traffic created during Saturday morning meal pick ups. 

The pantry has since submitted an application to the Pine Plains Planning Board for a major home occupation special-use permit, which although a zoning issue is within the Planning Board’s jurisdiction. The matter is currently in litigation; the Planning Board met on Wednesday, March 10, and Planning Board attorney Warren Replansky advised since Willow Roots is now operating out of a new commercial space, the couple consider withdrawing their application. The pair said they will talk with their lawyers before deciding how to proceed; the board held off from voting (for more on Willow Roots’ new site, the ribbon-cutting ceremony and the Zayases’ journey, read this week’s front page).

The “happy” part of this story refers to the outpouring of community support that resulted in those two February articles — a deluge of calls, emails and texts that Lisa and Nelson received suggesting possible new locations for the pantry where no one would mind the weekly food distributions that help feed about 40 Tri-state households — most in Pine Plains — though that can vary depending on need. The majority of clients receive their food through local deliveries, and Lisa stressed only about 15 to 20 cars were driving to the North Main Street site each week. About 5,000 meals were distributed last year, but with so many losing their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, those numbers are likely to rise in 2021.

One of the people who called the couple was Kyle Lougheed, who owns and operates Ginocchio Electric, Inc., at 7730 South Main St. in Pine Plains. He said he wanted to show the pair the space at Pass It On, the former consignment shop across from the firehouse and near the post office, thinking it might be ideal for the food pantry. He did, and it was.

“What he gave us, literally, is more than we could ever could have hoped for,” said Lisa, adding Lougheed even converted an extra, unneeded bathroom into a kitchen area for washing fresh, donated produce.

“He sealed it and built a box so it would be sanitary. He built a table, left the sink so we could wash vegetables — it is amazing craftsmanship — he did a beautiful job for us,” she added. “That’s how much he cared we could utilize every inch of that space.”

Lisa and Nelson said they are deeply moved by how many people — some they knew and many they did not — who reached out to offer help when the pantry was in such dire need and facing extinction. During her darkest days, days when she was thinking of giving up, Lisa said she learned it’s OK to lean on others and ask for their help — help people were longing to provide.

“What we learned, what Willow Roots learned that day, is this was bigger than us,” she said. “What we saw was the joy people got from helping was something that could not be suppressed; we were being selfish by not letting people help us. We thought we were being strong, but we realized others needed to help us.” 

Lisa added each of those volunteers who helped offered invaluable expertise and support, and most continue to volunteer with the food pantry today. Some provided financial support, others now volunteer on distribution days or with various chores that need to get done. 

On moving day, Saturday, March 14, nearly 20 volunteers showed up with a flatbed to move refrigerators, freezers and other equipment to the new South Main Street distribution center. Lisa said it went incredibly well and that she was “in tears” at the show of support. 

The Zayases celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sunday morning, March 21, under bright blue skies and plenty of sunshine.

“Willow Roots is not going anywhere,” said Lisa, adding “this is a great community.”

Indeed it is. 

To call Willow Roots, dial 518-592-1298. To drop off donations, continue to go to the pantry’s original location, where its office will remain, at 23 North Main St., as no one will be at the new location to accept donations. Meanwhile, food distribution at Willow Roots’ new site will be on the first, third and fourth Saturday of each month, at 7730 South Main St., Pine Plains. Free clothes will also be available, including winter coats.

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