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handful of strawberries for Community Building Through Volunteers blog by Jenny Wonderling and Inside+Out Upstate NY in the Hudson Valley

Community Building Through Volunteerism

By Jenny Wonderling | April 5, 2023

Longing for meaningful experiences and relationships, to be of service and tangibly help change the world? One beautiful way is to “begin at home” within your community and upon the land, by volunteering locally in the Hudson Valley. Whether through one-time events or sustained relationships and commitments, volunteerism is so important for building and maintaining healthy, resilient communities. Share your unique skills, learn new ones, make and deepen friendships and help ameliorate some of the very real needs facing our neighbors and the natural world.

Lack of transportation and housing, food insecurity, domestic abuse, river and road cleanups, illiteracy, animal welfare, low-income communities and individuals, elders…. Find your cause and make a real difference through grant writing, fundraising, mentorship, translation services, farming, tutoring, and oh so much more. There are so many wonderful opportunities wherever your passions and skill sets lie.


a person reading a book using their finger to follow along for the Community Building Through Volunteers blog by Jenny Wonderling and Inside+Out Upstate NY in the Hudson Valley

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.Yet they are the world of the individual person.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Did you know: In Ulster County, 16,000 adults are functionally illiterate? Ulster Literacy Association is the RSVP station of Ulster County–the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. This is a federally funded program under the Corporation for National and Community Service. ULA provides volunteer opportunities for their retired and/or senior residents and other community volunteers. With tutor training sessions throughout the county, older volunteers can conveniently tutor close to home or online. “Tutoring helps build strong bonds among neighbors by sharing the many skills, talents, and wisdom our older volunteers have acquired. Many of our tutors report feeling less isolated and more creatively engaged in their lives when they join other RSVP volunteers for parties, in-service training and recognition events.”

No teaching experience is necessary. If you are interested in sharing your love of reading and writing with an eager and motivated learner, connect HERE

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bunch of veggies for Community Building Through Volunteers blog by Jenny Wonderling and Inside+Out Upstate NY in the Hudson Valley

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” –Albert Schweitzer PHILOSOPHER, PHYSICIAN, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER

Did you know: According to a recent comprehensive study and report of food insecurity in Ulster County released by Ulster County Legislator Eve Walter (D – New Paltz), Chair of the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee, “One in every seven Ulster County residents lives in poverty (14%), with the highest rate among children under age 18 (16%)” and “Ulster County Community Health Assessment by the Department of Health reports that, in comparison with neighboring counties, Ulster County has historically had one of the highest rates of food insecurity and scored lowest amongst surrounding counties.” The report and its findings were developed by Chelsea Villalba, a legislative intern who had earned a master’s degree in social work and political social action, and recently examined the extent of food insecurity in Ulster County and its impact.

People’s Place is the largest food pantry in Ulster County and the only food pantry open 5 days a week. All food is provided free of charge. The Personal Care Closet, located inside the food pantry area, offers families and individuals free items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo and deodorant. Their Thrift Store provides free and affordable clothing, footwear and household items.
Funding for People’s Place comes from individual donors, sponsors, grants, fundraisers, special events and their Thrift Store. “The number of people we have helped to feed in our community has continued to grow by about 25% each year and has jumped exponentially during the Covid-19 pandemic, so People’s Place can benefit from your financial support throughout the year, as well as your donations of food and goods.”

Additional volunteers are greatly needed. If you can help out sign up here or email [email protected]

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Soul Fire Farm showing volunteers working together for Community Building Through Volunteers blog by Jenny Wonderling and Inside+Out Upstate NY in the Hudson Valley

“Prayer in action is love, love in action is service.” — Mother Teresa

Did you know: In the United States, nearly fifty million people are now food insecure, contributing to myriad health, nutrition and emotional issues. The impact has significantly increased since before COVID and no longer affects only low-income families and individuals who were also affected during the pandemic by disruptions in education, housing stability and mental health. In Ulster County in 2021, some 21,954 people (12%) were food insecure, with a 17% rate of child food insecurity. According to Legislator Sperry (Towns of Esopus & New Paltz – District 17) in “Middle-class families are feeling the impact of rising food costs as well. Every day parents are having to make difficult choices about the quality of food they can provide for their children,” stated.

Soul Fire Farm’s food sovereignty programs reach over 50,000 people each year, including farmer training for Black and Brown growers, reparations and land return initiatives for northeast farmers, food justice workshops for urban youth, home gardens for city-dwellers living under food apartheid, doorstep harvest delivery for food insecure households and systems and policy education for public decision-makers.

Soul Fire Farm Institute Inc is a 501c3 nonprofit educational organization that welcomes volunteers for all kinds of positions. Join their vibrant and joyous team HERE

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Soul Fire Farm working together for the Community Building Through Volunteers blog by Jenny Wonderling and Inside+Out Upstate NY in the Hudson Valley

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Did you know: In the Mid-Hudson Valley, while natural beauty, a rich history, a thriving tourist economy, and exciting local businesses and culture abound, “Region-wide data obscure the fact that in some areas and populations, poverty and associated hardships are significant.” Mid-Hudson Valley Community Profiles also reported that even before the impact of COVID-19, the area’s housing market and cost of living has been unaffordable to many, causing homelessness or home insecurity. According to the same report, “Living wage models estimate that in our region, two working parents with two children need to earn $97,350 a year, more than three times the poverty level (about $26,250) for a family of this type. A single earner with two children to support needs $89,200 a year to make a living wage.”

Ulster Corp is a great place to look for an ever-changing bulletin of ways to volunteer in the community for most local causes and opportunities. UlsterCorps, a countywide resource, is “dedicated to fostering a culture of volunteerism, collaborative work and community service. Our mission is to educate about volunteerism and best practices, facilitate successful and effective volunteer placements, and build collaborations among nonprofit organizations, local government agencies, and businesses engaged in community involvement throughout Ulster County. While UlsterCorps involves individuals of all ages in its activities, it has a deep commitment to engaging and educating youth in community service and leadership.” Since its inception, UlsterCorps has connected thousands of people with dozens of Ulster County agencies that provide food, clothing, shelter, emergency services, literacy training, child and elder care, animal welfare, and more to the area’s most vulnerable residents. Connect with Ulster Corp HERE.

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Hudson River Community Building Through Volunteers blog by Jenny Wonderling and Inside+Out Upstate NY in the Hudson Valley

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world” –Howard Zinn

Did you know: In the 1960s, the Hudson River was choking with pollution? Run-down factories flagrantly spilled hazardous waste, poisoning fish, threatening drinking water supplies, and ruining world-class havens for boating and swimming. America’s “First River ” had become little more than an industrial sewer. Finally, the Hudson River fishermen had enough of their catch reeking from oil spilled daily into the river. They banded together to use a decades-old federal law, turning the tide for the river and its aquatic life from ruin to recovery. This was the founding of the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association–now

Riverkeeper continues its daily fight, seeking out polluters and teaming with citizen scientists and activists to reclaim the Hudson River. “We also work to ensure that over nine million New Yorkers have clean, safe drinking water. Today, pollution levels are down, and swimming and boating are back. But the Hudson River’s recovery is still fragile, still incomplete. Some fish species have not recovered, and many remain too toxic to eat; pollution levels spike with every rainfall. Mammoth cuts in government spending threaten to reverse a half-century of water quality gains, and we face the challenges of antiquated power plants, climate change, and emerging, harmful pollutants. Riverkeeper’s vision is of a Hudson River teeming with life, with engaged communities boating, fishing and swimming throughout its watershed. Join Riverkeeper’s Volunteer Team! Find out more info HERE.

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basket of cherry tomatoes for Community Building Through Volunteers blog by Jenny Wonderling and Inside+Out Upstate NY in the Hudson Valley

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” ― Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Did you know: FAMILY of Woodstock offers myriad support that reaches far beyond Woodstock? This important local network of both paid and volunteer support has worked generously since 1970 “To provide confidential and fully accessible crisis intervention, information, prevention, and support services to address the needs of individuals and families. Founded in 1970, Family’s principal focuses are crisis intervention services that help tackle issues of domestic violence, mental illness, lack of childcare, housing, food scarcity, emergency shelter, runaway and homeless youth, youth and family services and much more from their walk-in, residential, or emergency shelters across the county. FAMILY runs one of the oldest continuously operating 24-hour emergency hotlines in the country, which is county-wide and toll-free; and walk-in centers in Woodstock, New Paltz, Ellenville and Kingston. Some of their programs are offered through their Family House, (their 14-bed runaway and homeless youth facility,) the Darmstadt Shelter for the Homeless, (a 19-bed shelter for men and women, primarily in recovery,) the Family Inn, (a 27-bed shelter for homeless families,) the Washbourne House, (a 17-bed domestic violence shelter, for women and their children,) and MidWay, (two supervised transitional living residences for up to six homeless adolescents each.) Family’s Child Care Council serves families, child care providers and the community in Ulster, Columbia and Greene Counties. Their Child Care Subsidy Administration for the Department of Social Services of Columbia County offers case management services for issues of substance abuse or mental health and individuals involved with the criminal justice system and more. FAMILY also provides non-residential services to victims and perpetrators of domestic violence including an advocate at the Ulster County Family Court; groups for men and women who have been violent with a family member through the Evolve program; and supervised visitations authorized by the Family Court for non-custodial parents.

The agency is leading the effort to expand strength-based and prevention programs which grow healthier individuals and communities, working with many of the county’s school districts, sponsoring Kingston Cares, a community collaborative focused on the area covered by the Kingston City School District, and participating in collaboratives in New Paltz and Ellenville. FAMILY advocates for the creation of affordable housing and has taken responsibility to provide reentry support for those returning to the County from State Prison. To assist with this effort, the agency provides long-term housing support for individuals and families with significant disabilities.

FAMILY is also providing leadership in an effort to identify and respond to the difficulties seniors are having in staying in their own homes as they age with a new program called HomeShare Woodstock. As well, FAMILY assists with vocational training and employment support for those we serve. The goal of FAMILY’s programs is to assist people to achieve self-sufficiency and self-respect. If you would like to get involved, donate, fundraise, or receive services GO HERE.

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heart-shaped potato for Community Building Through Volunteers blog by Jenny Wonderling and Inside+Out Upstate NY in the Hudson Valley

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” -Winston Churchill

Did you know: Working in partnership with the food industry, the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley collects large donations of unmarketable but still edible food and distributes it to charitable agencies feeding hungry people in a six-county region. In 2018, the Food Bank provided more than 15 million pounds of food to 400 member agencies in Orange, Ulster, Dutchess, Rockland, Sullivan, and Putnam counties.
The Food Bank of the Hudson Valley in conjunction with the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, now serves more than 1,000 member agencies in 23 counties from the Canadian border to the border of Westchester County. Dedicated to alleviating hunger, while preventing the waste of wholesome food, it is a branch of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York and a member of Feeding America, the national food bank network.

The Regional Food Bank, based in Latham, New York, was created by a group of food pantry coordinators and anti-hunger advocates which began its operation in June of 1982. At that time, pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters for the homeless were experiencing a tremendous increase in the number of people requesting emergency food assistance because of government budget cuts and difficult economic times. To serve agencies in the lower Hudson Valley, food was initially transported from the Regional Food Bank and distributed off the backs of trucks at a handful of member agency locations in the Hudson Valley area. As the need for food and agency membership increased, a physical presence was deemed necessary for greater efficiency and food safety. As a result, the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley was founded in 1990 in Newburgh, New York. This branch warehouse allowed increased donations from food companies and improved service to member agencies in the lower Hudson Valley area. In 1994, the Food Bank outgrew its rented Newburgh location and moved to a larger, improved facility in Milton, New York. Member agency numbers continued to grow and the amount of food distributed increased steadily. In 1996, a 55,000-square-foot warehouse in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York was donated to the Food Bank. This location also houses the Food Bank’s administrative offices. To donate or get involved HERE

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People moving food and supplies off a truck Community Building Through Volunteers blog by Jenny Wonderling and Inside+Out Upstate NY in the Hudson Valley

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here is a Partial List of Food Pantries Ulster County to Make Food and Monetary Donations:

Community Action – Food Pantry, Headstart, Emergency Services, Outreach
Phone: (845) 647-6061
85 Center St, Ellenville, NY 12428
Hours: Mon – Fri 9 AM – 4 PM

Helping Hands Food Pantry
Phone: (845) 564-1153
2221 Route 44-55 Gardiner, NY 12525
Hours: Thurs 11am – 12:30PM

Highland Community Action – Food Pantry,
Outreach, Emergency Services, Headstart
Phone: (845) 691-8722 – Admin.
15 Church St, Highland, NY 12542
Hours: Mon-Fri 8AM 4 PM
Also open for emergencies. Free bread and produce
available after 1pm Wed.

Rosendale Food Pantry
Phone: (845) 205-2822
45 James St, Rosendale, NY 12472
Hours: Mon 9am – 1 pm, Sat 10am – 1 PM

The Good Neighbor Food Pantry
Phone: 845-417-5535
89 Tinker St, Woodstock, NY 12498
Hours: Wednesdays & Thursdays 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM
MASS Distributions via container truck happen once a month at the Parking Lot on Rock City Rd (across from Colony). The next two are on APRIL 11th and MAY 9th.

Woodstock Meals on Wheels
16 Tinker St, Woodstock 12498
Meals are delivered between the hours of 11 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday. Upon request, meals for Saturday and Sunday can also be delivered on Friday, which will need to be reheated.

Town of Rochester Food Pantry
Phone: (845) 626-7501
15 Tobacco Road, Accord, NY 12404
Hours: Wed. 3:30-5:30PM, Fri. 10AM-12PM
Last Saturday of the month: 10AM-12PM

For a more complete list of food pantries in the Hudson Valley go to People’s Place Food Pantry HERE.

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We would love to hear from you about how getting involved in some of these efforts has impacted you!
Please send us some of your personal stories when you have them to share.

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