UIDN’s 3-year old food and home goods program sponsored free outdoor markets at Holy Cross/Santa Cruz Episcopal Church in Kingston during the warmer months. About 10 new families joined us each time. Over 90 families attended on October 21 when food, sweaters, coats, and linens were available.

Twenty-four UIDN volunteers helped with the summer markets, which are opportunities to identify new needs and make community connections that last beyond market day. If you are interested in helping out, get details here.

Much of the food distributed is purchased by UIDN — $44,000 through September of this year. Thankfully, substantial in-kind donations also come from Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, Ulster County Farm Hub, and local growers.

Food and clothing are not the only goods on offer. A recent grant enabled UIDN to buy and distribute 14 bicycles for adults – a valued resource for families without automobiles. The local chapter of Grannies Respond donated 90 adult knapsacks, each containing a blanket, a towel, and personal hygiene items.

Members of Congregation Emanuel donated 15 student book bags filled with school supplies, and friends of Old Dutch Church contributed $500 for diapers, an ongoing need. Four or five shopping carts have been distributed at the last seven market events. Donations to buy more shopping carts are welcome; they are greatly appreciated for carrying groceries on the long walk home.

Now that the weather is getting cooler and darkness comes earlier we are transitioning to providing food and a limited number of personal items. The food will be packaged by volunteers in the Parish Hall of Holy Cross/Santa Cruz Church and then brought to families in the church parking lot.

UIDN’s first events in this new format will be held on November 4 and 18 and December 2 and 16 from 3-5 p.m. We plan to reevaluate the situation for the new year.

The Challenge of Schooling…

About 11% of Ulster County residents are in Latinx families where a language other than English is spoken at home. Among asylum seekers from El Salvador or Guatemala that language may well be an indigenous one, rather than Spanish. As it has been for generations of immigrants, in-person public school is a major resource helping children to acquire English and other skills that enable them to be at home in their new country.

Virtual instruction has cut off the direct and informal conversation that builds language mastery. In addition, homes and neighborhoods may lack consistent — or sometimes any — internet access. Where there are many children in the house, virtual instruction schedules sometimes conflict. Then too, parents on meager incomes must stay home from work when their children are not in school.

Since its inception, UIDN has maintained outreach to parents, kids, teachers, and school administrators. When Covid forced closure of in-person schooling, we had to end an after-school program for 30 children at Chambers Elementary in Kingston. Even so, volunteers continued to see the children in their neighborhoods for many months.

UIDN volunteers in New Paltz have designed and launched Reading Together, an online one-on-one program for elementary-aged students. Volunteers and children meet weekly for half an hour over six weeks and then each partner decides whether to continue the weekly sessions. Seven children and their adult partners are in the first group. Many more volunteers are ready to work with additional children.

Meanwhile, our conversations with school personnel continue. In Kingston the superintendent has invited a UIDN representative to join an advisory group on coping with the impact of the pandemic. In New Paltz the deputy superintendent and UIDN volunteers work together to reach and support the immigrant community.

Looking ahead, we can see a need for more after-school support and tutoring — in person or online — to help overcome this period. We are grateful that school staff and administrators are navigating this period of intense uncertainty and aggravation, keeping their eyes on the goal of serving the children, and collaborating with UIDN volunteers to that end.

If you or someone you know needs childcare or a supportive learning place for school-aged kids, see UIDN’s list of affordable options.