Williamsburg: 'Normal families need food. This is ridiculous.'

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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:

When his landlord raised the rent few months ago, Mathew Valez, 25, unemployed, felt he was left with few options to make ends meet. He sought help from a charity organization.

“I can't spend money on clothes or groceries anymore,” said Valez, who lives a few blocks away, on Flushing Avenue, with his speech-impaired mother.

Once a month, Valez said, he comes to the food pantry at the Southside Community Mission in Williamsburg to get a bag of basic food items.

Valez is one among the increasing number of unemployed individuals and families receiving food aid from the mission, which was founded in 1973 by the Transfiguration Catholic Church. Jose Javier Bosque, the executive director, said in the past the food pantry drew mostly seniors with limited pensions and undocumented workers from Latin America. But that is changing. “In the last two years, we started seeing just regular families with no source of income,” said

Besides food, Bosque said the mission offers free legal and social counseling.

About 400 families receive food bags and used clothes from the mission every month. The food typically includes rice, beans, canned salmon or tuna, some juice, a few vegetable and fruit items and sometimes milk and cooking oil. The bags are distributed from Monday to Thursday between 9 a.m. and noon.

Ramona Moyet, 53, unemployed, started coming to the food pantry about 18 months ago. “I go to feed myself and my son,” she said. Although she receives some Social Security benefits, she said this was not enough. “The situation is getting worse.”

Although the needs are growing, Bosque said that the mission's resources are diminishing. “The budgets for our types of services are being cut,” Bosque said. “Normal families need food. This is ridiculous.”

He said the pantry's main donors are the New York Food Bank and Community Trust. Because of reduced funding, the mission has reduced staff and started turning down people seeking help.

“I feel depressed many times because I can't help,” said Felix Secaida, who has been volunteering at the food pantry for two years.

In addition to food, many people come asking for help with rent or are looking for a place to live, he said. The food pantry includes a basement shelter with 20 beds and free dinners.

Valez, the 25-year-old unemployed man, said he hopes to get a maintenance job soon. But he will continue coming to the pantry: “I need to save money. The salary won't be enough.”

Read the rest of our 'Lunchtime, Tuesday' reports:
At Brooklyn Pantries & Kitchens, New Need is Getting Old

Despite Economic Slowdown, Food Prices Rise In New York

Bushwick: 'There are kids out there who are hungry besides us.'

Bed-Stuy: 'I have seen less produce, less food … but more people.'

Crown Heights: 'If you come in hot, I know how to cool you down.'

Midwood: 'They can come into a store that's neat and feel good about it.'

Bushwick: 'I see a lot of older people come now.'

Crown Heights: 'For two weeks last month, we didn't have any food at all.'

Bed-Stuy: 'We know the importance in recognizing the dignity of the people.'

Sheepshead Bay: 'It's painful and it's embarrassing, you know?'

Prospect Heights: 'If you come late, they'll let you stay.'

Williamsburg: 'Never say you won't drink the dirty water.'

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