NYC Food Pantries Help More People

HNP Communications Features

NEW YORK — With the recession affecting more Americans, food pantries run by Province ministries in New York City are busier than ever, some providing additional items including aspirin, vitamins and cold tablets, along with clothing and baby supplies.

A survey by HNP Today finds that requests for help are up at food programs at the Province’s three churches in uptown Manhattan — St. Stephen of Hungary Church on East 82nd Street, Holy Name of Jesus Church on West 96th Street, and All Saints Church on East 129th Street in Harlem. Food donations are also on the rise.

“Our main themes in our food pantry ministerial outreaches are hospitality, human dignity and compassion. It can all be contained in the one word  — love,” said Jacques LaPointe, OFM, of St. Stephen of Hungary, which runs one of the most active outreach ministries in New York City.

St. Stephen of Hungary
Increasing numbers of people in need are turning to St. Stephen’s Carrefour/Crossroads food pantry. Over the past eight months, the church estimates serving 300 to 350 families a month, up from the original 30 to 40 clients when the pantry started in early 2008.

Many of the new clients are those who recently lost their jobs, according to Jacques, including workers from the fields of construction, restaurant and food preparation, cleaning services, child-care and other trades.

“No doubt about it, the economic downturn was a major element in the physical and service expansion of our food pantry at St. Stephen of Hungary,” Jacques said.

“After a cut in stock about a month ago, and following a visit by the city to our facility, our food stock just went up three-fold,” he added. “Great news.”

St. Stephen’s staff reported many of its annual 3,000 clients are elderly, homeless or single mothers with one or two children. Parents with multiple children living in city shelters and immigrant families living together in one small apartment also come to the pantry.

The church receives donations from the City of New York Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), the parish, and other churches in Manhattan and the surrounding suburbs.

A few months ago, the church started a non-prescription medication service, giving out aspirin, cold tablets and vitamins, along with a baby corner that offers baby food, powered milk, purified water, teething biscuits, diapers and toys.

It also recently added a clothing bank. “Many of the clothes we receive,” Jacques said, “are from the French expatriate community in New York, from Manhattan up to Westchester County, as well as through the great generosity of the St. Stephen parish community. We have even received clothing donations from as far away as Virginia and Texas.”

Last winter, the church estimates distributing more than 550 winter coats, along with scarves, mittens, gloves and socks, many donated by the Travelers Insurance company. A high school knitting class at Marymount School in New York also made wool hats.

“Very often, after going through our food pantry, our clients enthusiastically seek out our clothes bank. They are very complimentary services,” Jacques said. The pantry also continues to supply food for the church’s Tuesday night parish meal for HIV-infected men, who also visit the pantry.

“Thanks to Angelus Gambatese, OFM, the food pantry project, along with its attached programs, has been regrouped under one roof,” Jacques said. “This one-stop outreach ministry has been most welcomed by our increased clients who appreciate the convenience and compassion of all our services.” Angelus has served as pastor of St. Stephen’s since 2002.

All Saints Church
The staff at the 17-year-old All Saints food pantry has also noticed an increase in clients since last fall with the downturn of the economy. The number has been creeping up, with about 110 people showing up each week. In March, the pantry served 489 people, up from 226 in March 2008, according to Steven Pavignano, OFM, pastor, pictured in photo.

“Since the beginning of 2009, we have had 250 unique clients visit the pantry,” Steven said,  “at least once, and at most, six times.” Clients can come to the pantry two times a month, he said, receiving two bags filled with canned vegetables, fruit and meat, rice, beans, juice, milk, cereal, pasta, spaghetti sauce, peanuts and fresh produce, when available.

Most of the food comes from federal and city government programs. “Additionally, we are a part of the Catholic Charities conduit program for state funds,” Steven said. “We have also received grants from the Food Bank for NYC that can be used to purchase wholesale food. We receive, on average, $4,000 worth of food from these sources each month.”

Parish members also pitch in, especially at holiday seasons such as Thanksgiving and Easter, according to Steven, donating turkeys and hams.

The church is transitioning to a client-choice model of operation, which means that clients can select the food they want, within guidelines based on nutrition and family size. This operational model, according to Stephen, reduces the amount of food that is wasted, helps clients get the food they want, and gives them greater dignity as they select food rather than be handed a bag.

“This format will also allow us to expand our outreach efforts,” he said. “We hope to help clients get prescreened for benefits like food stamps and to provide nutrition workshops and health screenings during our hours of operation.”

The church is also awaiting acquisition of a refrigerator in the next few months, which will allow the pantry to accept and store more produce and meat.

Holy Name of Jesus Church
The staff at Holy Name Church reports a 20 percent increase in food pantry use since last spring. Its 100 monthly clients are referred from hospitals, churches, social service agencies and through the New York City hunger hotline.

Each week, approximately 2,000 non-perishable food items are distributed by the food pantry, located in the parish’s Franciscan Community Center on West  97th Street.  The food pantry, which is open on Tuesday afternoons, is coordinated by Nathaniel Davis.

Most of the food has been funded from grants, since the pantry opened in 1990, but about 20 percent is donated by parishioners of Holy Name and other churches. Students at the Holy Name School participate in a Thanksgiving food drive, according to staff member Sophia Goitia, adding that last fall, elementary schools in the neighborhood held a drive for the food pantry.

At Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, families are given extra food, often including a holiday ham.

Holy Name’s center also provides a thrift store, senior programs, health and wellness programs and other services.

The Province’s  parishes and ministries continue to try to fill the growing needs of  their communities.  Food pantries and food banks around the United States need help more than ever, according to an April 20 report on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

— Wendy Healy, a freelance writer in Connecticut, is a frequent contributor to
HNP Today.