This giveaway provided probationers and their families food in a reusable grocery bag, along with voter registration forms, COVID-19 testing kits and hand sanitizer. | Provided Photo

Teaming Up

Probation Partners with South Side Volunteers for Food Drive

By Ashley Reeves

Tuesday marked the start of a new initiative launched by the Onondaga County Department of Probation in partnership with The Greater Syracuse Southside Neighborhood Association Project S.O.U.L. (Southside Organizing Urban Lives). On the first Tuesday of each month, the Department of Probation and Project S.O.U.L. will offer a food drive, providing assistance to probationers and their families. This week’s event was held downtown at the County Probation offices. 

According to Probation Supervisor Michelle Millender, the goal is to alleviate some of the hardships faced by their probationers. 

“[A problem] we see as probation here every week, everybody’s not doing well,” Millender said. “This is a tough time for everybody and there are some families who really need the assistance. Oftentimes, probationers are doing it on their own and will go home and get food or grab something at the store on the way to me. It’s not the answer to the problem, but it certainly is helpful.”

Much of the food given out March 1 was donated by members of the South Side community. For those unable to make it downtown, probation officers made food deliveries to homes, ensuring everyone benefits. 

More than 150 families, countywide, expressed interest in the assistance, Millender says. “We’re getting groceries and baby care items tothem,” she said. “That gives them access to food throughout the week. It’s absolutely awesome. And I think a lot of workers didn’t know this kind of resource existed for one month or two, maybe didn’t even have access to it.”

The need for food assistance has only grown in recent years due to the pandemic. In the South Side alone, a lack of grocery stores and pharmacies located in the neighborhood adds to the challenge.

“We used to have two truckloads of food already prepared and we would give them away,” said Project S.O.U.L. member Charles Pierce-El. “We got to a point where we’re giving out 300 boxes every week. Then, we went from once a week to twice a week.”

“I’ve lived in the neighborhood a long time,” said Al Williams, another member of Project S.O.U.L. “Grocery stores, drugstores are needed. We are bringing to fruition a community need.”

As part of Tuesday’s event, members of Project S.O.U.L. provided probationers with voter registration forms and additional community resources information. According to Project S.O.U.L. member Jacqueline LaSonde, community outreach is key to creating a more informed neighborhood. 

“What we do doesn’t necessarily have to do with food and food giveaway,” LaSonde said. “We’re trying to fulfill a need, we’re trying to address the social issues.” 

Ashley Reeves is a journalism student at the Newhouse School and intern for The Stand

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