LIVINGSTON — Carole Clark, cofounder and executive director of the Columbia County Recovery Kitchen, was named one of the top 100 Nextdoor neighbors across the country who go out of their way to spread joy, offer help and bring communities together.
Nextdoor is an app that connects neighbors with trusted information in more than 280,000 neighborhoods in 11 countries.
Clark, 80, is driven by the fundamental desire to eradicate food insecurity in Columbia County. She cofounded the nonprofit Columbia County Recovery Kitchen, a Hudson-based organization that delivers meals to people facing food insecurity, in 2019.
“What we’ve noticed is that what we do is more needed now,” Clark said Thursday.
At the inception of the pandemic, the nonprofit was delivering 200 meals per week. With the help of about 90 volunteers and two salaried chefs, the nonprofit is cooking and distributing 950 meals per week.
Columbia County Recovery Kitchen volunteer Perry Ascher initiated the nomination of Clark for the award.
“At the beginning of the pandemic Carole had the insight that many people would have diminished food resources due to school closings and job losses. She mobilized a force of nearly 100 volunteers and even more donors,” said Eric Spiegel, one of the people who nominated Clark.
According to a survey conducted by New York University and published in Nutritional Journal in 2021, about 18% of households with children reported food insecurity during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, about 11% of American households were food insecure.
The definition of the term food insecurity, according to the nonprofit Feeding America, is “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.” While food insecurity was exacerbated by unprecedented adversity associated with the pandemic, lack of sufficient food is a consistent element of human history.
Clark’s mother, like many matriarchal figures raising children in America in the 1940s and 1950s, would often say, “There are children in Europe who don’t have food to eat.”
For Clark, this image was deeply seared into her psyche since her father was a Polish and Jewish immigrant who came to the United States in the 1920s with a distended stomach from extreme hunger.
For as long as Clark can remember, she’s been feeding people in one way or another. Most of her life was spent as an artist.
“To supplement my income by working in restaurants,” she said.
Clark also was formerly the chef and proprietor of Charleston Restaurant on Warren Street from 1987 to 2006. Before that, she owned the restaurant The Konkapot in Mill River, Massachusetts, from 1981 until 1988.
Around 2007, Clark was involved with a community organizing effort in Hudson to teach people how to cook. During this experience she recognized the perils of food insecurity and how it impacts different generations in a community.
“A lot of children didn’t know how to sit at a table or how to share a meal,” Clark said. At the end of the event, some of the children came up to Clark as she was scraping food from dishes into the garbage to ask for the scraps.
When the pandemic started, she thought of those families she worked with in 2007. She felt it was important to organize the community to help feed the hungry.
To call Clark selfless is an understatement.
“I think I am the only unpaid executive director,” she said. But the feeling of feeding people who need food satiates Clark’s purpose.