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:
The food bank at First Mary Magdalene Temple of Faith on Albany Avenue is serving about 300 people a week – up from 100 to 150 people a week this time last year.
“Sometimes we don't have enough food, so we give what we have,” said Rev. Rose Seelal, 69. “For two weeks last month, we didn't have any food at all.”
Even so, Rose and volunteer Mary Gibbs, 45, say there's more to be done. But it's not easy.
“We used to have a soup kitchen here,” said Seelal, “but people were too damn…”
“…mean,” Gibbs finished her sentence.
Former city parks employee Michael Horne, 50, is grateful for the help, but can understand Seelal's frustration. “A lot of people are grateful for this stuff, and a lot of people take advantage of the situation,” he said.
It's 12:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, and Horne is leaning against a car parked at the curb, waiting for his number to be called.
“This is my fourth pantry today, and I'm about to go to a fifth, over on St. John's,” he said. “I have to say, if there were no food pantries, I'd be in a lot of trouble.”
“Seventy-two,” a volunteer called. Horne stepped forward to collect a bag of canned goods, fruit, milk, cereal and juice.
“It's a great thing,” he said as he departed.
Down the block at The Church of God Seventh Day Pentecostal Church, food pantry supervisor Joy Tikili, 64, checked the food orders as United Way employees rolled them in off of the truck at 1:15 p.m. One by one she ticked off items on the invoice: fresh vegetables, beans, lentils, potatoes, oats and squash.
Tikili said she's been seeing 10 to 15 new faces a week, up from two or three per week six months ago.
“We're getting a new set of people who are unemployed, and a lot of underemployed people with part-time jobs,” Tikili saids. “It really helps them stretch their dollar. You have people who normally say ‘No, I don't need anything.' Now you see them in line.”
Tikili said she went online on Friday to order food from The Emergency Food Assistance Program, a federal program that is the single largest source of emergency food in New York City, according to FoodBankNYC.org. She said it was virtually empty.
“Never in my life have I been to the food bank and it's empty,” she said.
Read the rest of our 'Lunchtime, Tuesday' reports:
At Brooklyn Pantries & Kitchens, New Need is Getting Old