Cyril Josh Barker | 4/26/2018, 9:03 a.m.
Proposed federal cuts to food aid, the upcoming summer months and the crushing hammer of gentrification is a recipe for disaster when it comes to hunger in the city. Although attention to hunger seems to gain attention during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, the need remains year-round.
“I’ve lived here a really long time—maybe 30 or 40 years. I live with my son, and I also take care of my grandchildren full time,” said Georgia L., a City Harvest recipient. “Today, I am getting food enough to feed five people. I come to the pantry every two weeks. Sometimes I also get food for my neighbors who are elderly and can’t walk.”
Brooklyn has the largest number of food insecure adults out of all the boroughs, according to advocacy group Hunger Free America. One in nine adults in Brooklyn who are working are food insecure. One out of every six seniors and just over 11 percent of children in the borough live in food insecure homes.
“While unemployment decreased and wages rose during the last few years of the Obama administration, it is shameful that America, New York State and New York City all still have higher levels of hunger than before the Great Recession,” said Hunger Free American President and CEO Joel Berg. “We still face a nation, state and local epidemic of the ‘working hungry.’ Nationwide, the abysmally low minimum wage clearly is a chief cause of hunger.”
Celebrating 20 years in the community, the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger is the largest food pantry in Brooklyn. It serves 30,000 people each month and distributed 3 million meals last year. The organization also offers social services for clients, including help with employment training, financial literacy, food stamp screening and health education.
BSCAH was started in 1998 in the basement of a church as a small food pantry serving the Bed-Stuy community. Today, its reach extends to the Rockaways, Coney Island and the Bronx through mobile pantries.
A steady stream of residents with shopping carts come into the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger on Fulton Street on most weekday mornings as soon as the doors open at 10 a.m. Volunteers at the supermarket-style food pantry know that the 200-300 that come per day to pick up free groceries are just trying to meet a basic need.
“We wanted to make sure that we would not be just like any other pantry,” said BSCAH founder and executive director, Dr. Melony Samuels. “We train staff and volunteers to let them know that every person that walks in here is important. Everyone should be treated with compassion. They should know that we care.”
In 2006, Samuels created what is known at the “SuperPantry,” a method of distributing food to those in need in a supermarket setting rather distributing pre-packed food bag. BSCAH is the first supermarket-style pantry in Brooklyn where clients have a choice in the foods they want based on dietary needs and family size.