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Be the Change: Sidewalk Warriors Troy

By Natalie Criscione

If you happen to find yourself along 35 State Street in Troy, near the United Methodist Church (aka The Red Door Church) and it happens to be after 4:30pm on a Thursday, you will witness both the extraordinary strength of community and what it means to give to and care for one another. You will see the power of compassion and come to know what it means to be a Sidewalk Warrior.

Since April of 2021, every Thursday, rain or shine, nearly 70 volunteers (Sidewalk Warriors) arrive early to set up and staff the 30-40 tables along the sidewalk. The tables are stocked with household supplies, hot meals, and food staples. Partners such as the Regional Food Bank, Alexis Diner, Ginsberg’s Foods, The Iron Works Grill, and many other Rensselaer and Troy businesses and individuals help to supply food items that are then freely distributed to those in need. 

The needs of the roughly 200 individuals served each Thursday are vast, and everyone’s story, though unique, is riddled with struggles that often find them living unseen within society’s periphery; yet, like the quote found on the website, the volunteers “… see each individual as a person deserving of a life of dignity and worthy of support in their journey.” For Troy’s Sidewalk Warriors, none of the guests are nameless faces, and all are welcome; many are repeat visitors while others are arriving for the first time. “We call them Friends,” says Nicholas Francella, the organization’s volunteer Vice President, who has come to know many quite well as he spends most of the evenings circulating with his tablet in hand, talking with individuals, discovering their needs, listening to their challenges. “We know them on a first name basis—they ask how our families are, how the holidays are—we know so much about them; we are here to serve, not to judge; for us, they are family.” 

Francella strategizes, collaborates, and searches for solutions. He relies on Healthy Alliance’s “Unite Us” platform to help people with challenges that might include such things as healthcare, housing, furniture, additional food, and clothing. “It’s a godsend,” Francella says. “I’ve even gotten young kids into sports programs; the service provides everything.” As of this writing in December 2023, he has signed up nearly 130 individuals to the platform. 

Francella listens to his Friends and, through conversations, learns of things that may not seem obvious to those for whom basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing are taken for granted. Throughout the year as needs arise, volunteers collect additional non-food items for distribution. A fan drive in the summer and a coat/boot drive in the winter help to supply needed items. During the holidays, an “Adopt a Family” initiative provides toys and additional clothing for children. Currently, the Sidewalk Warriors are distributing wheeled carts to their Friends, many of whom do not have vehicles to transport food. Things many people don’t think twice about are luxury items for someone who lives beneath the poverty line. One week during a successful pillow drive, one particular child was cradling, rocking, and hugging her pillow. “Do you like your pillow?” a volunteer asked. Given her behavior, it was the quintessential rhetorical question, but her answer was not. The child, who paused a moment to look up, smile, and hug the pillow just a little tighter said, “This will be the first pillow that will actually be mine.” Moments like this punctuate Francella’s evenings and inspire him and the dozens of other volunteers to return again week after week. 

For more information about the Sidewalk Warriors-Troy, to make a donation, and to find out how you can become a volunteer, visit their website at And, during the month of January, when you say “yes” to the question “Would you like to round up to the nearest dollar?” know that you, too, are a Sidewalk Warrior!

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