Montgomery County

Montgomery County sheriff and deputies making food pickups part of regular patrols

‘We want to be a good partner during this difficult time’
Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery Smith helps sort food that will be delivered by him and his deputies.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery Smith helps sort food that will be delivered by him and his deputies.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, Rising to the Challenge, Special Sections

MONTGOMERY COUNTY — Deputies with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office have been doing more than just enforcing the law since the beginning of April.

Under the leadership of Sheriff Jeffery Smith, they’ve been playing a part in keep food pantries and animal shelters in the county supplied with food and other basic necessities that can be distributed to those in need, as those organizations try to keep up with new demand from families whose lives have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. In many cases, people have lost jobs, leaving families with reduced income.

The idea, announced by Smith on April 1, is actually quite simple: While out on daily patrols across the county, members of the law enforcement division can pick up nonperishable foods and pet supplies from residents willing to donate them, with the closest deputy, in most cases, being sent to do the collection.

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The materials are brought to the sheriff’s office garage in Fultonville for sorting, then about once a week are delivered to three of the busier food pantries, one each in the eastern, central and western parts of the county. The food is then distributed through the pantries’ standard system, so the people making the donations and the sheriff’s deputies don’t know who the final recipients are.

The effort, which is being personally coordinated by Smith, has been a resounding success so far.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Smith, a lifelong Montgomery County resident, has been sheriff since 2019, but he earlier spent 25 years with the office, rising to the rank of undersheriff, the office’s second-in-command. He also served about five years as the county’s coordinator of emergency services, dealing most often with problems caused by severe weather or flooding. The novel coronavirus has created a challenge unlike any other.

Smith recently took some time to explain the sheriff’s food donation program, which he said has been very successful.

Q: How did you get the idea for this community assistance program?

A: I was thinking about what we could do as an agency to try to help, other than just provide service. I attended a food giveaway in Amsterdam and I saw how well-attended that was, so I thought this was something we could do to help, since deputies are out on patrol anyway.

Photo provided: Montgomery County Deputy Sheriff Corey Rust loading in bags of food to deliver to county residents. Photo Provided
Montgomery County Deputy Sheriff Corey Rust loading in bags of food to deliver to county residents.

We set up an email, at [email protected]montgomery.us. That email goes directly to me and I make the arrangements. We will come by while we’re on patrol. We ask deputies when they pick food up to do a quick hit on the siren as a thank you.

(Donated items are to be left at the end of the driveway and picked up there, to maintain social distance between the deputies and the people making donations.)

Q: How has the response from the public been?

A: We have a Ford F-350 pickup and we’ve delivered six loads so far (as of April 14). A picture doesn’t do it justice, you don’t realize how much it is until you load it into an F-350. It’s been fairly significant, but we haven’t been overwhelmed. Deputies bring the items they’ve collected back to the sheriff’s garage [in Fultonville]. We keep it here, sometimes for up to a week, but they are picking up every day.

There are many food banks in the county, but we are using three to cover different parts of the county. In the eastern end, it’s the Catholic Charities food pantry in Amsterdam; in the mid-county it’s Fultmont Community Action Program right here in Fonda; and then in the western part of the county, it’s the pantry at the Fort Plain Reformed Church. There are also two animal shelters receiving donations, the Montgomery County SPCA and Ayers Animal Shelter in Sprakers.

Q: Who is involved?

A: All 26 members of the law enforcement division are participating. Depending on what time of day you call and where you are, any one of them could come to your home and pick up the food.

Q: What kind of donations have you been receiving?

A: It’s supposed to be all nonperishable, but it’s anything and everything. It’s sauces, it’s pasta, it’s potatoes, it’s cereal. It’s everything, and we’re also getting pet supplies, food and litter.

We store it in the sheriff’s garage, putting it on palates and folding tables. We sort it and split it into three equal piles, so each food bank get the same amount. We want to be a good partner during this difficult time.

We know there’s a need. The food banks are always asking for donations. The food banks are very appreciative and thankful for what we are doing.

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Q: How long do you anticipate the sheriff’s office will continue the program?

A: Until the restrictions of this virus have lessened for our communities, we will keep doing this.

Q: Do you think your previous time as the county director of emergency services, as well as with the sheriff’s office, has helped you prepare for this situation?

A: My experience in emergency services as well as being sheriff and also being a volunteer fireman have helped me understand the needs of the community and the needs of the staff, and I think it has all helped me to become a good leader, though that’s not for me to say.

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