On Tuesday, Sept. 13, one reporting class from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism sent its students out to talk to patrons and providers at a dozen food pantries and kitchens in Brooklyn. Here is one of the scenes they found:
For Heidi Boston, head cook at the Salvation Army of Bushwick's soup kitchen, proof of the problem of local food access is in the numbers.
Boston had been at work since 6:30 a.m. preparing 96 pieces of chicken, more than 26 pounds of vegetables and almost eight pounds of mashed potatoes for the day's lunch. Bushwick's hungry lined up at around noon for a steaming plate of barbeque chicken, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, a half-pint carton of milk and a bowl of fruit.
After working at the Salvation Army for six years, Boston has noticed that her patrons have been an older crowd recently, and on Tuesday, the Salvation Army's tally showed that just over a third of the 78 people who came to the soup kitchen were over 65.
“I see a lot of older people come now, it seems like they're having a hard time,” Boston said.
Besides working Monday through Friday in the soup kitchen, Boston also oversees the Salvation Army's food pantry, which hands out single packages or larger packages tailored to families on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Boston said she knows a mother of eight that has to visit multiple food pantries and soup kitchens to make ends meet.
“She was telling me she goes from one to the other, and she's got food stamps,” Boston said. “She's barely making it.”
Tuesday's hot meal is the result of Boston's effort to serve at least two fresh meals per week. The morning's extra effort paid off, as Boston said that her harshest culinary critics were pleased.
“There were no complaints from the seniors today, the grumpy old people are getting better,” Boston said with a grin.
When the line slows down at around 1 p.m., Boston sits down to wrap plastic silverware in napkins to be given out with tomorrow's meal, and greets the occasional straggler. One woman wants to take a plate to go for her boyfriends, but Boston insists that she can only feed those who come for their meals, but if they have any left over at two, when the soup kitchen closes, she can take some extra.
At 2 p.m. Boston closes the heavy metal door that leads into the Salvation Army's basement cafeteria, still letting the last two diners relax and finish their meals. A volunteer cleans off the tables and buffet. In an hour the yellow and white-walled room will be turned over to an afterschool program for local kids, replacing the quiet hungry with the hurried excitement of kids just out of school.
Read the rest of our 'Lunchtime, Tuesday' reports:
At Brooklyn Pantries & Kitchens, New Need is Getting Old