‘An awesome concept’

Monroe. Since May, the volunteer effort known as Dinners4KidsOC has served 3,000 meals to about 20 family Pine Tree Elementary School students and other children in their families. The need grows and so, too, will the effort.

| 02 Nov 2020 | 11:46

Goshen attorney Philip Dropkin, 71, is an avid cyclist who has tapped his passion to help feed hungry children.

Four or five times a week he climbs on his Cannondale Evo bicycle for “meditative” journeys that provide aerobic exercise and scenic views that would be impossible to appreciate from a car.

He has ridden 100 miles in Florida and 90 miles in the hillier terrain of Orange County. Five months after a 2017 bypass he was back in the saddle.

Money enough for an additional 7,000 meals

On Sept. 26, he completed a 65-mile, six-hour metric century ride, raising $24,000 for Dinners4KidsOC, a growing program that delivers hot nutritious microwavable dinners to children facing food insecurity.

Since May, the volunteer effort has served 3,000 meals to about 20 family Pine Tree Elementary School students and other children in their families. It recently began delivering six dinners a week to 10 Chester families and, as COVID surges, volunteers have discussed expanding to other parts of Monroe and Warwick.

The money Dropkin raised will pay for an additional 7,000 meals. The dinners are prepared by Monroe’s Empire Diner at the cost of food and containers (ShopRite donates fresh fruit).

“Sometimes there’s a loss,” said diner owner David Wenger, who from time to time offers “special meals” such as steak.

Dinners4Kids “is an awesome concept,” Wenger said.

The rabbi’s notion

The program got its start when Rabbi Roger Lerner of the Monroe Temple of Liberal Judaism mentioned in one of his sermons a similar effort he had worked with in Pennsylvania. Sue-Anne Dropkin, Phil’s wife, a retired Goshen third grade teacher who was a faculty adviser for the district’s Youth Ending Hunger club program for 17 years, urged him to follow the lead of the Pennsylvania program.

Dinner4KidsOC is run by a core group of 14 volunteers. Others pitch in when needed. “It is rare for a grassroots group to get off the ground this fast,” said Sarah Petroccitto, a Pine Tree social worker.

Parents have reacted with “gratitude and excitement and the kids love it,” she added.

Food insecurity

Sue-Anne Dropkin said that food insecurity was “major problem” even before the pandemic, but the situation has worsened.

“Many families are struggling,” Lerner said.

The nonprofit Feeding America estimates that there were 15,400 food insecure children in Orange County in 2018. It projects that the food insecurity rate has grown to 24.8 percent this year from 15.6 percent.

(Food insecurity refers to the U.S. Department of Agriculture measure of the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate food. “Sometimes people have food,” Sue-Anne Dropkin said, “and sometimes they don’t.”

Whether Dinners4Kids can sustain itself and the extent to which it can expand will depend largely on fund raising. It has a number of events in the works. For instance, the Monroe Temple currently is holding a virtual Turkey Trot.

To combat the problem, Sue-Anne Dropkin said, “You have to get creative.”

A matching, anonymous donor

Phil Dropkin originally considered sponsoring a bicycle rally but decided that a crowd of bikers would violate calls for social distancing. Instead he sent out solicitations for donations to 110 people. Norm Stein, John Carey and John Michael Carey agreed to ride with him for part of the way.

He said that he expected to raise $10,000, His $24,000 haul came in the form of $12,000 in donations so far and a $12,000 match from an anonymous donor.

“Particularly in the time of COVID, with its attendant greater financial and emotional stress,” Dropkin said, “folks are responsive to doing good by helping children who through no fault of their own go to bed hungry.”

To contribute

Donations go to Community Foundation of Orange County at: Cfosny.org/our-funds/field-of-interest/dinner4kids0cfund

The regulars of the group currently consist of the following below persons. From time to time others periodically come in. The parentheticals generally describe what each person does. In addition, various group members deliver the prepared dinners or substitute in the event that a regular deliverer can’t deliver. Food is delivered three times a week for six dinners per week to each recipient.
Rabbi Roger Lerner (strategic planning, general coordination of the group, fund raising)
David Wenger (strategic planning, dinner preparation, fund raising)
Sue-Anne Dropkin (strategic planning and fundraising; originated concept of the group in discussion with Rabbi Lerner)
Philip Dropkin (strategic planning and fund raising together with legal advice)
Dale Zuckerman (strategic planning, fund raising and coordinates food deliveries)
Irving Zuckerman (fund raising and delivers fresh fruit for dinners from ShopRite in Monroe to the Empire Diner)
Inez Freund (public relations and related matters)
Charlene Hirschberg (strategic planning and fundraising)
Jamee Goldstein (strategic planning)
Jodi Sanders (strategic planning and videography assistance)
Margaret Summers (M-W schools)
Renee Vernola (M-W schools)
Sara Petroccitto (M-W schools social worker)
Sharon Goldberg (fund raising and strategic planning)
The following also provide assistance:
Plaza Optical (Paul and Betsy Utnick - strategic planning and funding)
ShopRite of Monroe (contributes fresh fruit as part of each dinner)
Target (contributes microwaves, as needed.)
Devine Design,Inc. (web page and web assistance)
Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan (maintains funds, sends thank you letters to donors and assists with PR)