With thousands of New Yorkers struggling with hunger, Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger Executive Director and founder the Rev. Dr. Melony Samuels is a key figure in the fight to make sure those without food are taken care of.
Celebrating 20 years in the community this year, BSCAH is the largest food pantry in Brooklyn, serving 30,000 people each month and distributing 3 million meals last year. The organization is needed in the borough, which has the largest number of food insecure adults and 11 percent of children living in food insecure homes.
A native of Kingston, Jamaica and mother to four, Samuels is also a pastor at Full Gospel Tabernacle of Faith alongside her husband, Alton Samuels. She began her mission to help the hungry while working in the private sector helping a single mother get food.
“The woman had four children and needed food support,” she said. “We started with her and engaged other mothers.”
Samuels, along with help from volunteers, started food drives, and her efforts began to grow. After receiving a grant, she started a food pantry in the basement of her church in 1998.
“The need kept growing and the Lord kept pressing my spirit when I saw children and seniors in wheelchairs and they would say to me they’ve been waiting in line for food for hours,” she said.
As the number of people needing food increased, Samuels made a daring move and left her private sector job to concentrate full time on her organization. Today, BSCAH is Brooklyn’s largest food pantry. The organization’s reach goes beyond Brooklyn to the Rockaways, Coney Island and the Bronx through mobile pantries.
Along with giving food to the community, BSCAH also offers social services, including help with employment training, financial literacy, food stamp screening and health education. Today, Samuels manages a staff of 21 people, some of whom were volunteers from when she first started.
As an advocate for those in need, Samuels is on the Steering Committees for both the Manhattan Borough president and the Politics of Food Conference. She also started the Bed-Stuy Providers Network, a collaborative of 18 emergency feeding programs in her community.
“When I left my job, my manager said I must have lost my mind,” she related. “Although it was exhausting, it was rewarding. The Lord is leading me to do this.”
Several factors have caused a rise in New Yorkers needing to go to food pantries. Rising rents, cuts to benefits and unemployment are contributing to more people being food insecure. BSCAH wasn’t immune to struggles. The state recently cut a portion of funding to the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program, putting a strain on the organization.
Samuels explained, “What keeps me up at night are the families that need food that I might have to turn away and the kids that need the support and I can’t help them. What impacted us was when I lost major funding from the state.”
Samuels said when she looks back at the success of BSCAH over the past 20 years, she’s pleased because of the affect the organization has had on so many people who are often ignored by society. “We are an organization that gives back to others, and we are building our city. We are excited and proud of the things we’re doing. We are vital to the survival of this community.”
BSCAH is hosting a fundraiser event May 8. The organization is changing its name to the Campaign Against Hunger to reflect its citywide reach. Samuels said BSCAH plans to roll out a mobile market, a family wellness center and a cafe.