In the newspapers...

August 24, 2015 Summer Lunch Wagons roll through Schenectady
November 9, 2015 Schenectady Food Pantry Hopes to Raise $20,000
August 8, 2014 Schenectady Damien Center changes hands
July 1, 2014 SICM’s free lunch program begins in Schenectady
June 26, 2014 SICM set for 20th summer of free lunches


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Summer Lunch Wagons roll through Schenectady

By Michaela Kilgallen August 24, 2015
Site supervisor Vicki Loika hands out bagged lunches to 6 year old Azailia Johnson and her 4 year old brother Ezekiel Johnson from the Schenectady Inner City Ministry's Mobile Meals free lunch truck parked in the Downtown YMCA parking lot on Friday, August 21, 2015.
Site supervisor Vicki Loika hands out bagged lunches to 6 year old Azailia Johnson and her 4 year old brother Ezekiel Johnson from the Schenectady Inner City Ministry's Mobile Meals free lunch truck parked in the Downtown YMCA parking lot on Friday, August 21, 2015.

SCHENECTADY — When the Schenectady Inner City Ministry’s Summer Lunch Wagons come rolling down the street, kids are never far behind.

“It’s sort of like the ice cream van,” said Brian Hassett, president and CEO of United Way of the Greater Capital Region. “The kids come running, but it’s much more basic. It’s basic hunger that’s being addressed.”

The trucks are a new addition to the Summer Lunch program, which provides free lunch for Schenectady children five days a week. The mobile meal stations will increase the number of meals served to over 2,250 a day this summer.

The wagons make 15-minute stops at 15 locations in Schenectady where it is difficult to set up a stationary meal service. Two SICM workers can oversee the operations for one 14-foot wagon, which is equipped with shelving and refrigerators.

“It’s definitely a good feeling to see those faces,” said Sherain Rivera, a Summer Lunch Wagon worker. “They’ll come running, and they know us. It’s a great feeling to want to come to work every day for SICM.”

George Warner works with Rivera handing out the lunches through the back of the truck. He finds the job just as rewarding because as many as 8,000 children in the area need it.

“A lot of these kids,” he said, “we know when school gets out they don’t get lunch.”

The two new trucks have been in use since June 29; the last day of the Summer Lunch program is Sept. 4. There are 30 fixed sites and 15 mobile sites.

Some of the mobile sites include Ellis Hospital, Front Street Pool and Yates Elementary. Visit for a full schedule of operating times for the fixed and mobile sites.

SICM was able to fund the wagons with donations totaling $100,000 from United Way of the Greater Capital Region, the Wright Family Foundation, the Carlilian Foundation and the Upstate NY Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“United Way decided that hunger was an issue and we should be doing more about in the Capital Region,” Hassett said. “So we launched this initiative a couple years ago, and it’s really starting to bear fruit in a number of ways.”

The Summer Lunch program has been serving the children of Schenectady for 21 years. From 2013 to 2015 the number of sites increased 30 percent. This summer more than 70,000 meals will be served, compared with 65,000 last year.

Associate Director of the Summer Lunch Program Eileen Ploetz says there is talk of expansion with the mobile meals trucks for 2016, but for now the staff is just focusing on the present.

“There’s been discussion,” she said. “But right now they’re running at maximum capacity.”

Although SICM and its partners are proud of the Summer Lunch program’s accomplishments, executive director the Rev. Phillip Grigsby said it is unfortunate that the children need it at all.

“It’s good news we can do it,” he said. “But we work toward the day when these kind of things are not needed.”

Nov9-2015 Schenectady Food Pantry Hopes to Raise $20,000

By Emily DeFeciani
Monday, November 9, 2015 at 07:21 AM EST

TWC News

SCOTIA, N.Y. -- The Schenectady Emergency Food Pantry aims to serve more than 430,000 meals this year. To do that, they need some financial help. Sunday the organization hosted a dinner to raise money for food.  

"I was divorced and I had no savings, no money coming in, no job, I had just retired," Nancy Bedard said.

A little more than a decade ago, Bedard says her finances were frightening.

"I think that's one reason I enjoy volunteering, because I could've been there," she said.

She understands the perpetual questions about 20 percent of Schenectady residents are forced to answer.

"Do I pay the rent? Do I buy food? Do I buy clothing? Do I buy medicine?"

That's what led her to join the Schenectady Inner City Ministry Food Pantry.

"I just love going in on Wednesday, that's our day," she said.

Volunteering there is what brought her to Jim.

"I never wanted to get married again or even date anybody, but he was kind of cute!" she said.

The two have been married for the last 10 years and work together at the pantry weekly. Sunday the pair attended the Ministry's annual harvest dinner to raise money for food. Last year, $20,000 were donated, which organizers say goes a long way.

"We buy food at 16 cents a pound," said SICM Executive Director Rev. Phillip Grigsby.

The pantry is the largest in Schenectady County, serving about 100 families a day. But the group helps with more than just food. Grigsby said the group assists with "healthcare, health insurance, food stamps, employment," 

"Sometimes people are just so broken and down and out they just need somebody to care," said Bedard.

The Bedards said they're happy to give whatever they can.

"I think it makes you feel good. It makes you feel blessed, you don't realize how much you have until you talk to people who don't have anything. I just feel good when we go home," said Bedard.

If you missed the dinner, you can donate online at A $10 donation buys 65 pounds of food from the Regional Food Bank. You can also donate your time, SICM is always looking for more volunteers.

Congratulations, SICM!  The Tech Valley Nonprofit Business Council recognizes the contribution of nonprofit organizations as a vital economic force in Tech Valley, one that has a tremendous impact on the quality of life for all residents. In support of the TVNBC mission, the Chamber recognizes individuals and organizations for exemplary contributions to the vitality of our community.

SICM received the award for Nonprofit Organization (1-74 employees).

Yay, SICM! And thank you, Albany/Colonie Chamber of Commerce
and the Chamber of Schenectady County!

Why did we get this recognition?
See the video!

Schenectady Damien Center changes hands

Friday, August 8, 2014
By Bethany Bump (Contact)
Gazette Reporter  

SCHENECTADY — Schenectady residents living with HIV and AIDS will have more community resources than ever this fall, when the Albany Damien Center launches a satellite center in a familiar space.

The Albany center was founded in 1990 as one of the first AIDS drop-in centers in the nation. It opened a branch in Schenectady the next year, followed by a branch in Troy the year after that. Funding challenges in 1994 prompted a takeover of those branches by separate organizations. Schenectady Inner City Ministry assumed operations of the Schenectady branch and Troy Area United Ministries took over the Troy branch.

Two decades later, the Albany Damien Center is ready to take back control of the Schenectady center, which has had its own struggles over the years, from relocations to an attic fire to a suspension of services two years ago.

“This has been in the works for a while,” said SICM’s executive director, the Rev. Phil Grigsby. “Over the years, we talked about recombining the centers. It seemed the right time, given the changing face of AIDS and the Albany Damien Center has many best practices that we don’t have the resources to do here.”

When SICM suspended services two years ago, it was still able to offer meals at the site and link people to other support services in the area, like Ellis Medicine, Mohawk Opportunities and the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York. But it was no longer able to offer the kind of comprehensive support the other Damien Centers could.

Under the new arrangement, SICM will still own and maintain the center at 615 Nott St., a nondescript building across from Union College. But the Albany Damien Center will bring in its own staff and array of programs, ranging from prevention counseling and nutritional education to vocational rehabilitative training and even pet care for those afraid to leave animals home alone while they seek treatment.

To help get everything up and running again, Ellis Medicine President and CEO Jim Connolly on Thursday presented a check for $15,000 to the Albany Damien Center.

“We’re starting slow, and we hope to grow,” said Albany Damien Center Executive Director Perry Junjulas.

A fire that ripped through the Albany center in August 2013 forced its temporary relocation to First Lutheran Church in Albany. At the time, Junjulas said he even thought about relocating the whole operation to Schenectady.

“Space-wise, we just wouldn’t have fit,” he said.

But a bigger Schenectady space could be in the works. As part of its long-range plan, the Damien Center is building a new Albany center that includes not just space for headquarters and programs, but also housing for 22 people living with HIV/AIDS who are unstably housed. This should open by December 2015. The hope, Junjulas said, is to do the same thing in Schenectady.

“Safe, affordable housing is the No. 1 need for persons living with AIDS right now,” he said, “so this is definitely an area the Damien Center is heading in.”

Because of the Troy center’s proximity to Albany, Junjulas said it’s less likely they would take over that branch, but they are looking at the possibility of opening centers elsewhere in the region. Among the possible sites for new centers are Amsterdam, Glens Falls and Hudson — all cities with a high concentration of individuals living with AIDS.

Schenectady’s biggest need right now, he said, is raising awareness of preventative measures among its population of young, sexually active gay men of color.

“Part of our dream is having new HIV infections become rare,” he said. “And if they do happen, we want that person to get the right care fast, so they can live a full life.”

SICM’s free lunch program begins in Schenectady

July 1, 2014
Updated 12:58 p.m.
By Leah Trouwborst/For The Daily Gazette

SCHENECTADY — Children attending the Schenectady Inner City Ministry’s free lunch program at Zoller Elementary School on Monday had two choices to make: either crustless peanut butter sandwiches or tuna fish and crackers, and either chocolate or plain milk.

SICM volunteers had also packed carrots, Oreos, applesauce and orange juice into the brown bag lunches.

SICM’s free lunch program began on Monday at 16 of 23 locations and at both of two “mobile lunch sites.”

All locations will be serving lunch by Tuesday, July 8. On July 9, SICM will throw a lunch program kick-off celebration at Jerry Burrell Park.

More on program

• To see a full list of lunchtimes and locations, which are open daily regardless of weather conditions, visit SICM’s website,

• Follow @sicm_summerlunch2014 on Instagram to see regular photo updates of sandwiches and smiles.

On Monday, only 11 kids showed up at the mobile lunch site at Zoller between noon and 12:20. The elementary school was the first out of six stops, each stop lasting around 15 minutes.

George Warner of SICM said that last summer got off to a slow start for the mobile lunch sites.

But by early August, every day at noon, “this crew of kids would come running down Belmont Street,” he said, pointing to the road running past Zoller. “This being day one, they might not know we’re here yet.”

In hopes of finding his “old crew” of kids, Warner and his two SICM volunteers drove slowly down Belmont Street before heading to Carrie Street Park, their next stop.

Ten blocks away from the elementary school, at Steinmetz Park, a neat line of about 20 children waited for the SICM workers to begin serving lunch at 12:30.

Many of them had just finished chalk drawings on the nearby sidewalk.

Their supervisors were employees of the Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady, whose Steinmetz Summer Park Club partners with SICM to provide both activities and lunch to Schenectady kids.

The SICM volunteers talked with the kids while serving them lunch. As the children settled down into their seats on picnic benches, one SICM volunteer told the crowd she had an “extremely important announcement.” Trevor was turning 3. She had just met Trevor, who had gotten in line with his grandmother.

A rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday, Dear Trevor” followed.

Ezekiel, a 7-year-old who attends the Steinmetz Summer Park Club, said he’s liked the SICM lunches ever since his Boys & Girls Club counselors took him there last summer. Three reasons stood out to him for spending his summer in Steinmetz Park: “Because you get to do activities, because you get to color, and you get to have your muscles grow.”

As neighboring kids began wandering away from their half-eaten lunches, Ezekiel collected four single-serving bags of carrots.

“I’m rich. Everybody gave me their stuff,” he said triumphantly. If you asked whether he really wanted the whole pile of carrots, you would be told, as if a well-known fact, that “carrots are my favorite thing.”

Starting July 9, a new summer camp at Steinmetz Park will bring approximately 24 new kids per day to participate in the SICM lunch program. SICM partnered with Camp Fowler, based in Lake Pleasant, to offer this free four-week day camp to local kids.

Reaching out to kids from Yates Magnet Elementary School was their main object, said Janet Mattis, the community outreach and internship coordinator for SICM. Registration has already filled for the summer.

SICM set for 20th summer of free lunches

Thursday, June 26, 2014
By Leah Trouwborst/For The Daily Gazette  

Tyriek Sontog, 7, has a hamburger while reading during the kick-off to the Schenectady Inner City Ministry free summer lunch program in July 2013 in Jerry Burrell Park.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Tyriek Sontog, 7, has a hamburger while reading during the kick-off to the Schenectady Inner City Ministry free summer lunch program in July 2013 in Jerry Burrell Park.

More online

• To see a full list of lunchtimes and locations, which are open daily regardless of weather conditions, visit SICM's website.

• Follow @sicm_summerlunch2014 on Instagram to see regular photo updates of sandwiches and smiles.

SCHENECTADY — Reasons to celebrate June 30 include a 20th anniversary and free food — two things loved universally.

Monday is the day Schenectady Inner City Ministry (SICM) begins its 20th annual free summer lunch program.

Each weekday this summer, 23 different locations and two mobile lunch carts will serve free lunch to kids under 18 living in Schenectady.

The carts will make six 15-minute stops along a pre-planned route. Stops include churches, schools, apartment complexes, parks and even the Front Street pool. Colorful banners announce to the neighborhood where the lunch carts will park each day.

Listing the contents of each lunch requires a lot of commas: an entree, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, beverages, a snack and milk or juice.

Rachel Curtis directs the summer lunch program at SICM. Explaining the need for the program in Schenectady, she said, “There’s an almost 51 percent child poverty rate here. Eighty percent of school-age children in Schenectady city schools qualify for reduced-priced lunches.” During the summer, school lunches aren’t available.

SICM’s program was “designed to step in for the school lunches,” Curtis said. Since diet significantly affects brain function, healthy summer lunches affect healthy performance in school, Curtis added. “We want kids going back to school nourished and ready to perform.”

Curtis said the state Education Department reimburses SICM for each meal served, but the program purchases other necessities — plastic utensils, tents and hairnets, to name a few — thanks to $5,000 in funding from the city of Schenectady and a $1,000 donation from The Golub Corporation.

SICM served almost 55,000 meals in 2013, averaging 1,111 per day. This year, Curtis expects to serve around 2,000 meals per day.

Still, Curtis knows some children would rather skip lunch than accept a free meal. “There can be stigmas attached to getting free food,” she said. In an effort to overcome this perception and increase participation, SICM is introducing a pilot program called Summer Lunch Plus, staffed by 18 new interns.

The program was born from the observation that SICM’s indoor locations didn’t draw the same lunchtime crowds as the outdoor sites, which included outdoor activities. Two interns — both of them childhood education majors — are putting together a curriculum of games, crafts and reading to add to the indoor scene.

Another new feature of the indoor sites may increase participation. SICM has received such large donations of books from local groups that “each day kids can leave with a free book or two,” Curtis says.

Curtis estimates that children participating in SICM’s lunch program are, on average, 10 years old. The two outdoor locations with pools — Quackenbush Park and Central Park — tend to draw more teenagers, said Curtis, but she’s still considering ways to reach out to teens. One long-term goal of hers is to foster mentoring relationships between older and younger children.

Between 80 and 100 volunteer groups have committed to help run this summer’s program. Each group is composed of two to five people, depending on the size of the location at which they’re serving lunch, and is responsible for one week of work. To oversee the volunteers, SICM trained 18 interns and approximately 25 site supervisors (local community members hired by SICM).

Employees of the Schenectady GE plant volunteered to fill 12 volunteer groups.

Curtis is still looking for volunteers. “We’re looking good, but since we added some new sites, we could use a little more help,” she said.

SICM wants its impact on local children to extend beyond daily nutrition. With that in mind, SICM coordinates its schedule with the Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA. If kids eating lunches catch the contagious energy of, say, a soccer game on a neighboring field, they could soon be spending more of their free time playing sports.

Curtis describes the lunch program as “a collaboration between players in the Schenectady community.”

On July 9, SICM will throw a lunch program kick-off celebration at Jerry Burrell Park.