Every Wednesday morning cars begin lining up outside of the Newburgh United Armory Center for their 30 to 50 pound box of food from the Larkin Center. This Wednesday, 56 cars were waiting before the distribution even began.
Anywhere between 600 and 700 families are fed on any given week. Ninety-nine percent of the food is donated by the Hudson Valley Food Bank, with the rest donated by local businesses or residents.
The time of distribution depends on when the truck arrives, but usually, distribution hours are between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.
The entire production has a handful of volunteers from many different organizations and groups. This past Wednesday was one of the largest volunteer turnouts. The volunteers included people from the marines, community members, board members, members from the Victory Bible Church and members from Latinos Unidos, among others.
The night before distribution, volunteers are already hard at work at the Larkin Center building over 600 boxes and setting up the conveyor belt.
Board member of the Armory and lifelong resident of Newburgh, Wilbur Higgins volunteers every single week.
“There were many people who helped me along the way,” said Higgins. “I’m giving back to them. That’s what it’s all about.”
Senior at Cornwall Central High School, Michaela Brown, said she volunteers because it’s “fun and fulfilling.”
“I love it,” said Brown. “At first I was like this is so much work, but people need this and it’s really great.”
On the day of distribution, there is no messing around.
The empty box starts at the beginning of the train and then is packed with different products in an assembly line style of work. At the bottom goes the frozen meat, then cheese or dairy products followed by produce and dried goods.
“Each person’s job is basically to reduce moving time,” said the Armory’s Director of Operations, Max Cuacuas. “This is why we have so many people on the train. One person stands in front of each pallet and puts the same amount into each box.”
From beginning to end of the distribution process it takes about four hours and 20 minutes, an extremely fast process.
This past Wednesday’s box had spaghetti, pork, frozen vegetables, apples, oranges, raisins, chips and canned products.
All that you need to do to receive a box or bag of food is just show up. Whether you are coming in a car or by foot, distribution is on a first come first serve basis.
“We don’t ask them proof of residency or for anything else that other places might ask,” said Cuacuas. “If you come, you get a box of food.”
The amount of boxes per car depends on how many adults are in the car. If there is one adult, they would receive one box. If there are two adults, they’d receive two boxes. You are not allowed to visit twice in one day.
For some, it’s extremely needed. One woman arrived in her car and said that it was her third week coming and shared how helpful it was for her, especially being a single mother. For others, this past Wednesday was their first time going but said they’d definitely be returning.
The distribution has been ongoing for almost five months. While the Armory’s mission is to educate kids, things have been thrown for a loop with the pandemic. They do have virtual educational programs, but figured they’d continue to help the community through the weekly food bank program.
They became an emergency center with the help of the Hudson Valley Food Bank, meaning they do not have to pay for the food. Instead, it is all donated to them.
“There is a need for this and we haven’t slowed down,” said Cuacuas. “We thought once the reopening started, with most people having gone back to work in some capacity and some children back at school, it would die down and we’d be cut to half the amount. It hasn’t stopped.”
Every week, in fact, they have to turn around 20 to 30 people away.
In addition to feeding hundreds of families every week, the Armory has also helped Saint Mary’s Giving Day find a new home right at the Larkin Center. The September and October Giving Days had to be canceled when its original location at Head Start of Orange County said it could no longer be used.
Mark your calendars for the third Friday in November and December for the Thanksgiving and Christmas themed Giving Days.
For those interested in volunteering for the Wednesday food distribution, you can contact Cuacuas at email@example.com.