Bensonhurst Food Pantry Faces New Obstacle: The Parks Dept.

A volunteer serves a resident in need at Reaching Out Community Services (Photo by Carla Astudillo)

Weeks after we published a story on Reaching Out Community Services‘ struggles to keep food stocked on its shelves, The New York Daily News reports that the beleaguered Bensonhurst food pantry at 7708 New Utrecht Avenue has hit yet another brick wall. In a devastating blow to its ability to provide free food to the area’s most indigent residents, Reaching Out was denied a permit by the New York City Parks Department to hold weekly flea market fundraisers at Cadman Plaza in downtown Brooklyn.

In spite of holding one successful flea market last April that brought in $2,000 — which Reaching Out Fundraising Chairman James LaMorte said would cover the facility’s rent if they were able to hold them weekly — officials from Parks told the pantry that “they have a blanket policy against allowing flea markets in Brooklyn parks.”

Reaching Out had to take out a bank loan just to pay the rent, and a significant one-time anonymous donation has carried them through this year, but LaMorte admits that the flea markets would help them enormously.

“If we could do it every week, that would cover our rent,” LaMorte said. “We run nice events and have pictures to prove it and have never received a complaint about any of our events.”

“But that money is now gone,” said Thomas Neve, executive director and founder of the pantry. “We stretched it out as much as possible.”

Nevertheless, Cadman Plaza — a stone’s throw from Borough Hall — “is no stranger to commercial activity, with farmers markets held several times a week,” according to The Daily News.

As we previously reported, because other food distribution organizations such as Food Bank and City Harvest have also seen a decrease in funds, the pantry receives less food, in spite of generous donations from Bensonhurst schools and churches. Pantry officials said they have not kept up with demand, which has skyrocketed from 800 clients to 4,000 in just four years due to the ailing economy, and they’ve had to cut back on their hours of operation to offset the expense.

If the pantry doesn’t receive the help it needs, in the form of funding and food donations, “then the whole program might have to shut down,” Neve confesses.

Should that happen, 4,000 area residents could go hungry.

Make a donation to Reaching Out Community Services.

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