CRREO releases ninth Discussion Brief, “Food Insecurity in Ulster County”

NEW PALTZ – The Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) at SUNY New Paltz has released its ninth discussion brief, “Food Insecurity in Ulster County.”

As families in the Hudson Valley shop and prepare to gather for the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner, SUNY New Paltz Professor Sue Books reports in a newly released CRREO discussion brief that a significant number of county residents are living in poverty, suffering economic hardship, or experiencing “food insecurity.”

Books, a professor in the Department of Secondary Education at SUNY New Paltz concludes, “We are living side-by-side in two worlds. Some of us shop for food regularly and conveniently in a range of venues, from full-service groceries to local farm stands. Others must obtain food wherever and however they can in a shadow system of food pantries, soup kitchens, and food distributions.”

UlsterCorps, the community organization that connects volunteers with service opportunities in Ulster County urged the preparation of this report, to document the true dimensions of what its volunteers were experiencing as they worked to address the local hunger issue. Based on a review of Census and other data as well as interviews with more than 30 “frontline” workers in human services agencies, food banks and soup kitchens, and anti-hunger research and advocacy organizations, Books concluded that Ulster County’s network of social services and volunteer hunger-prevention efforts is certainly helping. But she also concluded that the food safety net in the county is under considerable stress. Agencies and organizations, both public and private, are attempting to meet escalating need with frozen or reduced resources.

The Food Bank of the Hudson Valley distributed approximately 1.4 million pounds of food to charitable organizations in Ulster County in 2008, and approximately 2 million pounds to these same organizations in 2011 – a 57% increase over the three years. Moreover, in the 2009-2010 school year, more than 37% of K-12 students received free or reduced-priced lunches, up from 31.6% in 2004-2005. The Ulster County Office for the Aging serves approximately 520 meals every day and has a waiting list of more than 100.

The report finds that approximately three in every twenty Ulster County residents, and nearly one in five children, at times lack adequate food to meet basic nutritional needs. This burden seemingly is being disproportionately felt by low-income children and teenagers, our growing numbers of elderly and near-retirement adults.

In Ulster County in 2010, approximately 12% of all residents, 15% of all families with young children, and 47% of all single-mother families with young children had incomes below the poverty level. In the Village of Ellenville, an astonishing 70.6% of all single-mother families were living in poverty. Almost 14% of all Ulster County households received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in 2011. Among households not receiving SNAP benefits, 7.8% had incomes below the poverty level while food costs in the county are roughly double the average SNAP benefit.

Gerald Benjamin, CRREO director and associate vice president for regional engagement, stated, “this report at once documents the extraordinary volunteer and governmental efforts in Ulster county to address the fundamental human need for nutritional food, and shows how much more must be done so that not one person in our communities goes hungry in this holiday season, or throughout the year.”

CRREO was established in 2007 to further engage SUNY New Paltz and its people with communities, governments, not-for-profits, and businesses across our region. CRREO conducts and publicizes research on regional topics; creates and directs select institutes focusing on specific topics of regional interest; connects and partners with local governments, not-for-profits, and businesses to initiate reforms and advocate for best practices; contracts to assess the performance of public and not-for-profit agencies and programs; and works to foster intergovernmental collaboration and community engagement.

“Food Insecurity in Ulster County” Discussion Brief is published online at and