By JILL RIFKIN
ALBANY — Trendy teens painstakingly assembling bean soup ingredients early on a Saturday morning? Third graders working skillfully and cooperatively with students double their age stringing bead necklaces and crafting colorful pot holders? Sounds like an improbable dream to many a harried parent. Not so at the Grassroot Givers’ “Day of Simple Giving” fundraiser, held at St.. Sophia’s Church in Albany Saturday, Nov. 5.
About 350 excited volunteers of all ages gathered to create and assemble practical items, such as socks, toiletries, bean soup mixes, cookies, jewelry, and books, many donated by area businesses, to be given to Albany public schools and numerous organizations serving the poor, such as Equinox, Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless, and veterans programs,
Volunteers at 12 work stations crafted hundreds of woven pot holders for families transitioning from shelters to new homes, decorated cookies, wrapped countless Christmas towels around cake mix boxes, and wrote personalized messages for armed forces members. Gabriel Antonikowski, member of the bean soup brigade, and president of the local chapter of Jack and Jill, a historic African-American organization, was eager to do his part. “There’s so much hunger in the community,” he said. “That’s why Jack and Jill always comes here to make healthy soup.”
Grassroot Givers’ founders Roberta Sandler and Mary Partridge-Brown took over the abandoned YMCA in 2009 and transformed the gigantic swimming pool into a free library filled with donated top quality books. Painted bright aquamarine blue with dozens of bookshelves, cozy nooks, and stairs for entrance into the “pool,” it’s an astonishing facility. 99,000 books have been donated to impoverished residents. A free Community Store, stocked with donated new or near new household items and clothing, serves 600 patrons weekly.
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Congressman Paul Tonko visited, as did Ron Rock, Chair of SEFCU’s board, a generous patron. Sheehan noted that Grassroot Givers has galvanized hundreds of people wanting to help the disadvantaged. “They work with so many community organizations, asking how they can help rather than guessing or reinventing the wheel.” Rock concurred. “Everyone told Roberta and Mary it’s impossible to transform an abandoned swimming pool into a library, but they turned it into a remarkable facility.They do a great job!”
Six-year-old Milo Myers, proudly displaying the bag of toiletries he’d assembled, agreed. “I have a lot of things. We’re helping people who don’t by making stuff for them, and I like to do that.”
For more information, visit GrassRootGivers.org or call 542-1276 or 817-5921.