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 boxes, milk crates and shopping carts from Target, Sears and Pathmark were strewn across the sidewalk shortly after noon on Tuesday at B'nai Raphael Chesed, a privately owned and managed kosher food pantry in Brooklyn. Outside, volunteers sorted food donations in the sunshine. Inside, very few people were collecting food to take home.
The pantry owner, Raphael Hazan, said Tuesday is usually a slow day. But over all, he said, things are busier; the stagnant economy has meant fewer food donations, but more people who need help.
“It's not like it was,” said Hazan, who started the pantry seven years ago to serve about 25 families a week. Now he serves 600 to 700 families a week. “You do the best you can.”
Hazan, 49, said the pantry, which is on Avenue K in the Flatlands area of Brooklyn, received only 3 million pounds of donated food last year, compared with about 4 million the previous year.
Hazan said that private donations for his operations budget – which pays for expenses and delivery drivers – are down to $500,000 this year from $800,000 in 2009.
Hazan said he still has about 20 volunteers who donate time to helping run the food pantry.
On this day, the volunteers brought the food inside and put it on shelves and refrigerators in the small, grocery store-style setting for customers to peruse. A small radio played the news of the day.
“This way, at least they can come into a store that's neat and feel good about it,” said volunteer Florence Reiser, 68, a retired secretary.
Some customers said they enjoy that atmosphere.
“Courteous people. The service is good. The help is good,” said 87-year-old George Beuscher, a retired truck driver who walked out of the pantry with two cases of Cool Whip at 1:15 p.m.
At 1: 30 p.m., several large trucks pulled up to deliver produce.
At 2:12 p.m., Ave Sagiv pulled up in his dented silver Dodge Caravan minivan with bags of leftover bread that he gathers from local bakeries. He said he collects bread for the food pantry several times a week, but bakeries have less to donate recently.
Between the economy and his health – he said he has been battling cancer for years – Hazan doesn't how long his food pantry will continue, but he's determined to keep it open as long as possible.
“The financial situation out there will get worse, not better,” he said. “You hang in for the ride. You take it day-by-day.”
Read the rest of our 'Lunchtime, Tuesday' reports:
At Brooklyn Pantries & Kitchens, New Need is Getting Old