Food pantries feel the pinch

Michelle Moore is a single mom on a mission to feed her family. She travels around the borough from her Flushing home, going from one food pantry to another so that her son and father don’t go hungry.

“You have to come prepared to wait outside in the bad weather,” Moore said, standing next to her shopping cart she had lined with a large garbage bag.

On Monday, she was at the Kehilat Sephardim of Ahavat Achim, an Orthodox Jewish synagogue on 78th Road in Kew Gardens Hills. Moore stops by every Monday for some groceries, whose amount is determined by the size of her family. This time she got turkey lunch meat, cold cereal, apple juice, peanut butter, fresh potatoes, canned vegetables and more.

Moore is among a growing number of Queens residents who find it necessary to visit food pantries on a regular basis due to the recession and continuing rise in unemployment, according to a recent study conducted by the Food Bank for New York City.

Findings show that 90 percent of the Food Bank’s pantries are reporting an increase in the number of people coming to them for help. The 26-year-old organization works in all five boroughs distributing food to approximately 1,000 assistance programs that provide 300,000 free meals a day to residents in need.

According to Food Bank’s spokeswoman Carol Schneider, one in five New Yorkers relies on her organization to eat. And that number seems to be growing.

One of the Food Bank’s distribution points is at the Kew Gardens Hills synagogue, which gives out food every Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. Lauren Cohen, director of community outreach for the synagogue said the pantry opened in 1991 and she has seen a big increase in the number of people coming for food over the last year.

“Wednesday is a particularly busy day when there are lines out the door,” Cohen said. “We used to serve 1,500 people a week, but now we are seeing 2,000.”

Although you don’t have to be Jewish to get food there, it is kosher. That does not bother Moore. “It helps me a lot,” she said. “They keep us going and it supplements food stamps, which has never been enough.”

Once registered at a particular location, participants can visit once a week, but Moore has found other food pantries in Jamaica and elsewhere to supplement her family’s meals.

While Moore packed her allotment on Monday, a representative from the nearby Solomon Schechter School dropped off prepared meals of chicken and rice. One was given to Moore, which she was delighted to take, saying it would be her lunch.

Gary Yukhananov, food pantry manager at the synagogue said the Schechter school delivers meals to distribute to the needy almost every day. He says it’s a nice addition to the groceries distributed.

Cohen indicated she is constantly seeking grants to keep the program going. Aside from the Food Bank for New York City, her pantry receives food from City Harvest and the Metropolitan Council of Jewish Poverty. “All groups are hurting now. We’re just one of many in dire need of grant money to keep it going. It’s just the way it is,” she said.

For further information, call Cohen at (718) 591-9574.

Catherine Williams runs the food pantry at the Macedonia AME Church on Union Street in downtown Flushing, which is open Wednesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. “We are seeing a big increase of visitors with the economy the way it is,” Williams said. “No one should be hungry.”

She noted some people line up outside the church at 8 a.m. to get their rations of canned goods, fresh produce and other items. “We try for a variety of protein, vegetable, pasta and more for a complete meal,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a supplement.”

For more details, call Williams at (718) 539-0024 or 353-5870.

The Murray Hill Neighborhood Association in conjunction with the First Presbyterian Church and Immanuel Community Church offer a food pantry every Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. at 150-20 Barclay Ave. in Flushing. About 80 people come to take food put out by volunteers.

When possible, the association offers a clothing pantry and immigration services in conjunction with the food pantry, usually the second Saturday of the month. Demand for all three programs has increased since the summer, officials there said.

The association can be reached at (718) 460-2063.

Although not part of a citywide program like the other food pantries, the First Reformed Church on 14th Avenue in College Point has offered free food to the needy every Thursday morning for about 20 years. The Rev. Linda Gold said approximately 27 regulars stop by each week. That’s more than twice the amount from two years ago.

Because of limited storage space, the church distributes mostly canned goods, peanut butter and boxed items such as pasta and rice, according to church volunteers Karl Nagasawa and Gene Barrett. They have seen a 30 percent increase in clients in the last six months.

Donations come from Church on the Hill in Flushing, a local AARP chapter and a Girl Scout troop. “People are appreciative,” Gold said.

First Reformed also holds a special “dinner” at lunchtime on the last Saturday of the month for those in need. Each month a different group sponsors the event, either doing the cooking, paying for it or bringing in a catered meal.

“It’s for people in need or just lonely,” the pastor said, noting the numbers have increased for these events as well.

Some of the sponsors include the local volunteer ambulance corps, VFW chapter, American Legion, Lutheran church and area physicians. Up to 35 attend on a regular basis.

To help the church program, call (718) 359-3956.

So far, volunteerism has kept up with the demand at area food pantries. Cohen says at her synagogue, aside from members. many of whom are Russian-speaking, students from St. John’s University and the Metropolitan Council of Jewish Poverty help with distribution. Queens College students are expected to participate soon.

Earlier this week, Mayor Mike Bloomberg encouraged residents to volunteer at food pantries to ensure that all locations have sufficient coverage. To participate, call 311.

To donate to the Food Bank for New York City, go to foodbanknyc.org or call (212) 566-7855.

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