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:
At 1:10 p.m., 29 people stand in the hot sun along Johnson Avenue in Williamsburg waiting for Most Holy Trinity Church to open the back door to its kitchen. They know the routine at this food pantry. Many carry umbrellas, folding chairs, magazines and stools. Nearly everyone has a pushcart.
Luis Gonzalez, 49, an unemployed chef, has been coming to the food pantry for two months, since a spinal condition forced him to quit working.
“Never say you won't drink the dirty water, because someday you gonna get real thirsty,” said Gonzalez. The crowd laughs at his comment and the man behind him slaps his back. Gonzalez winces in pain.
The door opens and Hector Belen, 62, the food pantry's volunteer coordinator, emerges. He shouts first in rapid-fire Spanish and then translates to English: “There will be a few delays today. Everyone needs to be patient, please.”
In line at 1:45 p.m., Grace Casiano, 43, stands and cuddles her eight-month-old granddaughter. Casiano worked for Most Holy Trinity Church until six months ago when she began caring for the baby. She has lived in Williamsburg her entire life and started coming to the food pantry nearly 15 years ago.
“Some people come here with extra bags so they can hide the food. They don't want their neighbors to see it because they are embarrassed,” said Casiano. “But I don't see the problem. We all need to eat.”
Belen reemerges. He holds a clipboard and begins to read from the list of names. Three women follow him inside and the door closes behind them.
The first three women exit the church at 1:57 p.m. holding small boxes of food. Those in line try to see what is in the boxes. Several people are visibly disappointed. Luis Gonzalez is invited into the building along with three others.
Luis exits 2:15 p.m. holding his box of food. He enthusiastically lists the contents: one package of tomatoes, two tuna wraps, one head of lettuce, one carton of cranberry juice, a can of beans, one bag of rice, one box of crackers, one box of popcorn, six cans of mixed vegetables, one can of salmon, and a half-gallon of milk.
More people have gone in and out, and more have arrived. Twenty-three people remain standing outside at 2:40 p.m. An elderly woman walks by with a young girl. She turns to the crowd and shouts, “You people just take that food and you sell it!” No one said anything to her.
Wadrick Lovell, 46, unemployed, emerges at 2:50 p.m. with his box. He pulls a small blue address book from his pocket. The book is filled with the names and addresses of churches. Lovell turns the worn pages to the New Life Missionary Church at 2010 Fulton St. in Brooklyn.
“I'm heading down there right now. I'm going to East New York today, too. Sometimes I go to Canarsie,” he said.
Grace Casiano collects her box at 2:57 p.m., after nearly two hours in line. She is happy that she was able to get some dehydrated baby milk – often in short supply, she said – but upset that there is no meat today. She said Most Holy Trinity Church checks identification and only allows people to return twice per month.
At 3:17 p.m., Reveriano Martinez, 40, his wife, and her sister are the last people in line. Martinez, a pizza maker, used to make $700 for a 65-hour work week, but now he barely gets 40 hours a week – and doesn't make enough to feed his family. His wife goes to church at Most Holy Trinity and the food pantry has been very helpful to the family.
“Everything is so expensive now,” said Martinez. “I think in a few years we will be rich and move to Connecticut.”
Read the rest of our 'Lunchtime, Tuesday' reports: