Camp Friendship Food Pantry celebrated its one-year anniversary with what they usually do – helping those in need. The Pantry gave out at least 300 bags filled with fresh groceries to their neighbors and delivered about 100 bags to seniors on Saturday, June 5th.
Last year, on June 2, residents came together in Park Slope and planned how to help make sure their neighbors were not going hungry as the pandemic dragged on. It all started when Chris Johnson, 65, board member of Camp Friendship, a nonprofit summer program for youth, made a Facebook post asking for volunteers to help distribute and deliver food.
“When the pandemic hit, everything shut down. Not only Camp Friendship, but really most of the community and the city. People who were vulnerable before the pandemic are even more vulnerable now,” Johnson said as he remembered seeing long lines at CHiPS, a soup kitchen and a shelter in Park Slope.
Johnson recalled hearing how people at the beginning of the pandemic would line up hours before CHiPS opened to get food, whether it was snowing or raining. People were standing in line for hours and he hoped he could help shorten those lines.
“Once we started the food pantry, weekly, there were people who were on that line, who I knew could have never imagined being on a food pantry line five months before that, or at least a year before.”
Johnson was a bartender and was working from paycheck to paycheck until he was diagnosed with kidney failure at the beginning of March 2020, right before COVID-19 hit. Johnson would have faced food insecurities and homelessness, but luckily his friends came together and helped him with his needs.
“I was incredibly, incredibly fortunate that a group of my friends came together and took up a collection and made me promise that I wouldn't rush back to work, but that I would take care of my health and I would do whatever it was that the doctors told me I needed to do before I went back to work. And that was the only reason that I wasn't food insecure myself,” Johnson said.
Camp Friendship Food Pantry partnered up with Heights and Hills, which provides services to seniors, to find seniors who were not able to come out of their homes and were also facing food insecurities.
When the group of volunteers came together to start the pantry, most of their support came from Park Slope residents donating money to the pantry, making it possible to buy fresh and quality food to distribute. Now Camp Friendship Food Pantry is collaborating with different organizations to receive donations and food. Now the Food Pantry relies on organizations like Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), FRED (Fairness, Respect, Equality, Dignity), a youth-led organization and Campaign Against Hunger to receive food and donations.
“I think what has been really eye-opening for us is that there is a need here in Park Slope as much as in other communities. We have a lot of people who live here who are seniors and just making ends meet is getting more and more complicated,” said Soni Sangha, 45, one of the volunteers at the Camp Friendship Food Pantry.
“It feels good to support the community. I come here with my kids, too, so they have a way to give back to people. And I think it kind of helps you understand the values we as a community have. So now people are putting their energies into community fridges, making sure that food is just everywhere and it should be accessible to everyone.”
If at the beginning the challenge was making sure that they are distributing fresh, quality food, now the challenge is the loss of young volunteers.
Lisa Watson, 70, who directs the shifts of volunteers every Saturday, said that soon they would soon lose their young volunteers who will be heading off to college.
“Without the teenagers, we know we're going to be down a lot of people. So one thing will be, we're going to need more volunteers,” Watson said, noting that the young volunteers added a level of enthusiasm that she will miss.
Marlene Worrell has been coming to Camp Friendship Food Pantry since they started the program. A retired worker from Bellevue Hospital, Worrell has lived in Park Slope since 1993.
“I come out to get some food to help out my church family get some food. So the pantry was good for me to give food to them so they can help one another. I give some to my neighbors too that need them. It was a blessing that they give it out and I can share it with other people. I am thankful for the help and I can share it with my church and other people in my neighborhood.”
About 25 volunteers who help out with packing and distributing the food have helped about a thousand people each week throughout the whole year.
Camp Friendship Food Pantry said they will need more volunteers. If you would like to volunteer you can sign up on their website Camp Friendship Brooklyn, which also has details on how to donate.