The past two years and the massive changes they have brought with them have forced many to reconsider how they view and interact with the communities around them. Coworkers, employees and even local members of government have adapted to unforseen challenges. Despite the volitility, community-based initiatives remain steadfast in their desire to help neighbors in need. In the town of Copake Falls, NY, the parish at Our Lady of Hope has been organizing and running a drive-thru food pantry since April 2021. Through the adversity, members of the volunteer effort have made the drive-thru a success by not only adapting to the way in which they pack and distribute the food, but how they interact with the community in creative ways.

Mary Burntitus, a longtime resident of Hillsdale, NY, and one of the pantry’s primary organizers reflects upon some of the initial challenges the organization faced as part of the ever-changing landscape saying, “One of the first drive-thru we held was outside in the church parking lot. There was lots of room, but not enough organization. We were tripping over one another and not always getting all the items in the boxes.”  Even today, Mary and her fellow volunteers face the challenge of having enough volunteers to pack  food in boxes, but it’s one they’ve adapted to overcome, “We of course have our church volunteers,” she says. “But now, we also have Copake Grange volunteers and local community members pitching in. We even have people volunteer their time who have received food from the drive thru.”

Most recently, the organization has been hard at work developing a relay system. Pallets of food are lined up according to how the items need to be packed; produce and dry. Each volunteer is responsible for packing two items. As they pack the boxes are pushed down the table. The next volunteer does the same. “This continues until the box is full and reaches the end of the table. The vehicles then drive from table #1 where the produce is ready to table #2 where the dry goods are ready,” Mary says. “This not only makes it easier on the volunteers, but also enables the cars to move forward much more efficiently.”

Undoubtedly, services like this are important for local residents because of the recent scourge of undernourished, pantries like this and others provide both fresh and frozen food. “We feel it makes a difference because of today’s high cost of living,” says Mary. “Our goal is to continue hosting the food drive thru’s once a month for the foreseeable future. It is our hope that they become bigger and allow us to reach even more people in need.”

This past holiday season, the parish sponsored a program called Elves for Elders where local residents, specifically seniors and those homebound, were nominated to be a part of the program by community members. Once nominated they received a gift bag with apples, oranges, homemade cookies (baked by volunteers), and a gift card.

“The biggest takeaway from this kind of volunteer work is the thanks we receive from those coming through the drive thru as well as the knowledge that we as a community and a parish are making a difference in so many different people’s lives,” Mary says.

For more information on Our Lady of Hope’s Drive-Thru Pantry, call (518) 329-4711 or visit them on Facebook @OurLadyofHopeRCCHurch