I came home last fall after ten years away, amidst a huge life emergency, and the minute our tires hit Catskills pavement I knew in my core that we’d be okay, and I was right. As sure as the river keeps flowing and the mountain winds blowing, there’s a broad, deep and wide Current of Abundance here.
Some dive right in. Gregory McCollough was hardly here a minute when he realized he was surrounded by need, so he cleaned out his closet and asked his nieces and coworkers to do the same and gave the clothes away to people who needed them. That was in 2018; Beyond the Four Walls Outreach (BT4WO) has given out over 40,000 pieces of clothing and is a clearinghouse where resources of all sorts change hands free of charge. Gregory rehomes blankets, ironing boards, pots and pans, sneakers and opened the city’s first Free Fridge. (There are now three.) When it got chilly last year, 700 people got warm coats. Backpacks full of school supplies were handed out to 173 kids last month.
Gregory’s been doing all of this from a makeshift arrangement of tables and tarps in his Van Buren Street front yard, and some neighbors felt inconvenienced and called the Building Department. Some places that might have spelled doom for BT4WO. Kingston, however, happened to own a building they didn’t need and it changed hands for a dollar amidst our legendary real estate boom, meaning that BT4WO will soon be established in the former Grand Slam Bar on Grand Street.
“We’re fundraising to do some renovations right now, and I can’t wait to get in there—it’s going to be so special,” says Gregory. “If you need something, look us up; if you want to donate, let me know, and if you like what we do, we always need volunteer energy. Come get to know us and see where you might fit in.”
Fifty years ago, with Urban Removal having recently hit the Rondout district, some priests and brothers from Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus started out by offering free GED classes and preschool and, like Gregory, realized they were surrounded by need, so they added food and clothing. When the Redemptorists got shipped out in 1985, the community took over; in 2020, People’s Place served well over a million meals and organizes a long list of other programs that are free to every Ulster County resident; their thrift shop helps support everything else.
“We live in a phenomenal community,” says executive director Christine Hein. “I’m not sure if this is how it is elsewhere, but I have heard people from other places say we have a great network among the nonprofits. Caring seems to be a common thread in our tapestry, and it makes me proud to be here and live here. And don’t we all want everyone to be happy or healthy?”
Christina Kravig is yet another tributary in the Great Stream of Needful Stuff, having opened Free to Thrift on Morton Boulevard five months ago. She’d like to get to nonprofit status eventually, but for now, she donates 10% of the store’s gross to community organizations, gives away stuff that doesn’t sell, and pays her employees $20 an hour. “We’re thriving,” she says. “We’ve already donated $5,000. This is my heart-baby; our house burnt down four years ago and the Woodstock community rallied round and now we’re fine. And I’m a treasure-hunter, so this is my jam.“Letting things get neglected and junked is a huge waste of energy; donating and receiving is part of being aware that we live in this planet, not above it”.
Christine is hoping that those who come into contact with need will realize that their clients are welcome to a healthy gift certificate good for clothes, housewares, furniture, art and more, and that the rest of us will come shopping.
At Seed Song Farm, founder Creek Iverson has been letting the current guide him and has been sending surplus food to local Guatemalan immigrant families; their children attended the farm’s summer camp on scholarship. “We had to find trilingual translators who could translate from Q’eqchi’,” says Creek. “They’re so very joyful to work with, so affectionate and warm and lively and so happy to be here, and watching them assimilate and get connected…These kids have the hardest stories, and we feel really good that the community found its way to our scholarship program.” (Standard operating procedure for the CSA’s rich array of education, live music and celebrations means that no one from anywhere is ever turned away for financial reasons.)
Beyond clothing, food, housewares and camp scholarships, connecting and surrounding all these people and many more, is the abundant love that flows here. Dive in. Get what you need, Pass something on. It’s our other river, and we’re all in it, keeping each other afloat.