Home » Pine Plains » Willow Roots shares holiday meal with community

From left, Yarami Gutierrez and her dog, Luna, gathered alongside The Stissing Center building for a holiday photo with her little sister, Renata, Santa Claus and Buddy the Elf. Photo by Kaitlin Lyle

Willow Roots shares holiday meal with community

Pine Plains shows support for food pantry

PINE PLAINS — Touched by the full-hearted community effort organized by Willow Roots and its many volunteers, the faith of Pine Plains residents in their community was amplified as they watched countless local organizations, businesses and individuals join together to make spirits bright at the food pantry’s third annual Christmas party on Sunday, Dec. 19.

Organized by Willow Roots’ holiday events coordinator Dani Nicholson, the event ran from 1 to 3 p.m. in the parking lot behind The Stissing Center (TSC) on Church Street (Route 199). Willow Roots was blessed with an afternoon of sunshine and spirit in equal measures.

Whether those who came for the free meals drove through to pick up their food or ambled around the parking lot, visitors were instantly overtaken by the  sense of community spirit.

Families had the option of staying to savor the holiday meals and festivities among friendly faces or taking them to go.

Their hands hovering over the warmth of a fire pit, a group of carolers supplied music as they sang seasonal favorites with gusto.

Willow Roots Vice President Brett McCormack and FORM + LIGHT Founder Sarah Rigano offered visitors on foot and in vehicles artful branches of natural greens as festive symbols of hope to add to their homes for the holidays.

As motorists advanced forward, they were greeted warmly by volunteers who offered them hot chocolate donated by Ronnybrook Farm; cookies donated by the “Cookie Fairies” from various churches in town; and presents in brightly colored bags arranged by Robert Burden.

“It’s a good little event and the cars keep on coming,” observed Jack Banning, an avid advocate of Willow Roots and one of the masterminds behind TSC.

Meals cooked with skill and crafted with a wide-ranging menu were provided by talented local chefs from Champetre, Cider Brothers Roadhouse, Farmer’s Wife, Lia’s Mountain View, Moose on the Loose and Tower Restaurant. Altogether, Willow Roots Co-Founder Lisa Zayas counted 181 dinners served at Sunday’s party.

Making an early appearance in town before Christmas Day, Santa Claus (thanks to his close friend, Rich Jewitt, manager at Stewart’s Shop) and Buddy the Elf (thanks to his close friend, David McGill, shift manager at Stewart’s) visited with local children to give away some gifts before the big day.

“It’s amazing: Every effort you see here, there’s a human behind it,” McCormack said, “and we believe that’s what it’s about — creating a community. There are so many helpers, it would be impossible to name them all.”

The list of volunteers and organizations that made this year’s holiday party possible was seemingly endless, as was the community’s appreciation for all that Willow Roots does to uplift and support them, with free food distribution at 7730 South Main St. in Pine Plains from 10 to 11 a.m. on the first, third and fourth Saturdays of each month.

“I think the most important thing is to care about each other and show up for your neighbors and your community from a place of hope,” Rigano said.

“It’s all about the community,” Jewitt said from behind his Santa beard. “For me, it’s about the kids and the community, especially with COVID-19 and everything that’s been happening the last couple of years.”

“Willow Roots does such a fantastic job in the community in all the things they do and the events they do in the community,” Jewitt said. “Everything the whole town does to come together is amazing, and that’s what small-town living is all about.”

To contact the food pantry,  email willowrootsinc@gmail.com or call 518-751-0164.

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