By Joe McQueen
ALBANY, N.Y. – It was still cold at North Albany Homes when Nicole Shao started filling her share of the aluminum containers with freshly cooked ground beef and canned peaches. One at a time, locals started to arrive at the site to pick up the meals for their kids who were home from school due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Shao was working with two other volunteers from the Boys and Girls Club of the Capital Area, a nonprofit organization that provides afterschool programs for kids in local communities in the Albany area. The organization started providing meals for breakfast and lunch on March 18 to kids age 18 and under who are not in school and don’t have access to food due to the close-ups triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic meals they usually get there. Many of the students in the Albany City School District come from low income families, so all 9,500 students in the district qualify, according to the district’s website. They are allowed to receive free meals at school due to a federal program the school participates in.
“When we realized schools were going to be closed, since a lot of kids rely on their meals in school during the day, we realized it was even a bigger problem now,” Justin Reuter, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of the Capital Area, said. “Once that came out, we scrambled trying to find a funding source.”
The Boys and Girls Club setup 11 locations at different apartment complexes in Albany and Troy where the students live to bring the meals straight to their homes, rather than have their parents go to the school to pick up the food.
“A lot of schools across the state are providing meals at the school, but the parents have to get from point A to point B and that’s a lot to ask for a parent to go all the way to the school to show a student ID just to get one meal for a child,” Reuter said.
Another problem communities in Albany face is not providing meals to adults. There were no programs in place to do so.
Reuter says his organization started an online fundraiser and ended up receiving numerous donations by mail to help provide meals to adults in the area.
There are plans to open up new sites in the near future so they can provide meals to more people throughout the area.
One of the sites where they are currently distributing meals is North Albany Homes. Three volunteers from the Boys and Girls Club have a station set up at the housing complex’s main offices. The volunteers are members of the communities they feed.
“I do love my community first,” Erykah Thompson, Site Coordinator at Arbor Hill Elementary School in Albany, said. I feel the kids shouldn’t have to always eat at home, they should come outside and get some fresh air, come get some free food.,”.
Since the program started, the volunteers said the response has been positive, who said this?.
“They are very grateful,” Thompson said. “Some people do not want to come out of their house, so for us to go deliver it to their house, they’re grateful for that, and they love it every single day.,”.
“There’s been a lot of people coming asking for more meals everyday and I feel like our numbers are doubling every day by sending these meals home to home,” Nicole Shao, Site Coordinator at Eagle Point Elementary School in Albany, said.
Older people don’t have the ability to go outside to get meals, so volunteers have been delivering it directly to their homes.
“I think it’s good, some people are in wheelchairs and can’t get out, me I’m not going out,” Freddie Foulks, a resident in North Albany Homes, said. “My children go out and get what I need and drop it off to me.”