BY Nicole Lyn Pesce
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Originally Published: Tuesday, November 8 2011, 6:00 AM
Linda Rosier/New York Daily News
Melony Samuels, director of the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, at the food pantry on Fulton St.
When Melony Samuels heard that a local mother was struggling to feed her four children, she did what any good neighbor would do: She went into her kitchen, pulled food the cupboard and packed a basket.
But rather than stopping with that one woman, Samuels began handing out packages of food to other neighbors in need.
“What started out just helping one family moved to about five — and then the next thing I know, I’m feeding 50 families … 360 families,” she says.
She secured a grant and opened a 2,000 square-foot supermarket-style food pantry (or SuperPantry) on Fulton St. in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Fourteen years later, her Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger (BCAH) sustains close to 11,000 families in BedStuy, Brownsville and Ocean Hill.
“What started out as just one woman trying to help one person has turned out to be a community working together, helping each other out,” she says.
Besides the SuperPantry, the BCAH also tends an urban community garden (supplying the pantry with more produce), distributes clothing and offers employment referrals, nutrition classes, HIV testing and food stamp screenings, among other social services.
“Last month, we served over 12,000, unduplicated,” she says. “But we’re not boasting about these numbers. We are really concerned, because there is not enough resources to meet the demand.”
Emergency food providers across the city are buckling under the strain of the city poverty rate skyrocketing 20.1% last year. The 2010 Annual Hunger Survey reports that demand at the city’s 1,100-plus food pantries and soup kitchens increased by 6.8% in 2010 — on top of a 20.8% increase in 2009. More than half of the agencies surveyed admit that they don’t have enough supply to meet the ballooning demand.
“I am truly concerned about what I’m going to do this Thanksgiving,” says Samuels. “Last year, we distributed over 900 turkeys. This year, we need to double that.
“Too many families are without jobs,” she adds. “Years ago, we associated pantries and soup kitchens with winos and the homeless, but not anymore. We are looking at families that often have given us a donation at some time in the past, but they now have to go in the line.”
The pantry line stretches down Fulton St. on a recent morning, with almost 60 men, women and children bundled against the cold.
“That’s a light line,” says Samuels. “It usually goes to the end of the block.”
The patrons wait patiently and orderly. “It’s very organized,” says Maxine Wilson, 52, who has come to BCAH since her security job at City Tech dried up.
“They are really doing a good job in this community,” she says. “They help you help yourself, by finding jobs, giving classes. And everyone who works here treats you well.”
The SuperPantry prides itself as a place where dignity rolls down the aisle. After taking a number, guests push a shopping cart and circle the pantry and pull their ration items of the shelves; they can pick up dry goods once a month (which should cover nine meals) and fresh produce once a week, with the amounts depending on the size of the household.
“I’ve got about $50 worth of groceries here,” says Wilson, while a volunteer bags her chicken breasts, carrot juice, potatoes, onions and soup. “It’s a really big help each month.”
The shelves aren’t as full as they once were; in fact, they were empty on this morning before the Food Bank NYC dropped off 475 cases of food.
“We need donations — money and food — from individuals, corporations, foundations, friends, any people that care to help us in providing meals for needy families,” says Samuels. “We are also dependent on our volunteers.”
“While we still have so many out of jobs, we have a responsibility to a community that is in need,” she adds. “All we ask is for individuals that are in the position to help us, to help us.”
HOW TO HELP
The Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger operates Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 1 to 6:30 p.m. To make a donation or sponsor a family, visit bedstuyagainsthunger.org/support. To volunteer, contact (718) 773-3551 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY THE NUMBERS
Last month the BCAH served more than 12,000 people .
$15 gives a family their Thanksgiving turkey
$35 provides a family with 9 meals.
$50 covers a Thanksgiving dinner and 9 meals
Last year, they distributed 900 turkeys .
This year, they need 1,800-plus