KINGSTON, NY – People’s Place organizers are finding that $50 gift cards given to food bank customers are an example of the little things that make a difference, even if it’s for a short time.
People who needed a boost the most are among the least likely to seek help, information post volunteer Elaine Habernig said during the initial distribution phase on Wednesday.
“We ask them ‘would this help you?’ “, did she say. “People have been so grateful. We have some who are on the verge of tears because it meant so much to them.
The Ulster County Capital Resource Corporation, which includes the same members as the county’s Industrial Development Agency board, approved in December to donate $100,000 to People’s Place for the distribution of $50 gift cards to 2,000 residents. The intent was to provide a way for people to get items they need that cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits, such as laundry detergent, shampoo, or prescriptions.
Habernig said some of the needs can be met without gift cards.
“Sometimes you see people coming in on a really cold day without a winter coat and we have a coat program so I’ll ask them if they need them,” she said.
The idea came from IDA board member Michael Ham after queuing at a ShopRite where a couple in front of him were looking for enough money to pay for their items, he said. He spontaneously offered to pay their bill and it made him realize how much a little help could mean to people, he said.
“Two old people couldn’t afford their groceries,” he said. “The lady was going through her wallet to withdraw cash and the guy was going through dollars.”
People’s Place executive director Christine Hein said the need for help has become greater since consumer prices have risen.
“A lot of people who use pantries don’t get the SNAP benefits to begin with,” she said. “There is a large part of the population (who) would be considered working poor who work every day, they sometimes work two or three jobs, and they still cannot get by. I think this will only become more glaring as living expenses have increased for heat and gas.
People’s Place celebrates its 50th anniversary since its founding by the Redemptorist Brothers of Mount St. Alphonse. Capital Resource Corporation President and CEO Rose Woodworth said the number of cards, which are being distributed to 12 food pantries, is intended to reach all areas of the county.
“I think Christine did a really good job of making sure (the distribution) was fair and distributed them throughout the county as much as possible,” she said.
“We were thinking about it over the holidays, and then we realized the need existed way beyond the holidays,” Woodworth said. “I think a lot of people do what they can and do a wonderful job at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But in January and February, people forget that these problems exist and that people still need help.