Community Service Organizations Are Stepping Up To Help Those In Need During Pandemic

Meals being prepared at Rethink Food’s Brooklyn Navy Yard facility. Courtesy of Rethink Food.

The city is shutting down, and New York’s grocery store shelves are being emptied out as frantic shoppers stock up on rice, canned goods, toilet paper, and other non-perishable goods to prepare for the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on our city. While New Yorkers across all demographics are being advised to prepare with food and supplies and to practice social distancing, the most vulnerable sectors of the population are those who cannot afford to stock up, or who are physically unable to leave their homes, cook, or do their own shopping. These people include low-income individuals and families, the elderly, and the housebound.

Fortunately, Brooklyn has a rich network of resources dedicated to providing these groups with prepared meals, as well as fresh and non-perishable goods, and many of these have dialed up their efforts in the last couple of weeks. Several food pantries and hunger relief organizations informed us how the pandemic has impacted their operations, from how they’re working to equip low-income, elderly, and homebound individuals with sufficient food and meals, to whether they’ve been able to keep up with rapidly increasing demands.

Melony Samuels, Executive Director and founder of nonprofit organization The Campaign Against Hunger in Bed-Stuy, said that on Friday alone, the organization provided at least 1,000 more meals than usual, much of which they personally delivered to senior housing facilities — a service they don’t typically provide, but which they had chosen to institute that day. They’ve also begun to provide nearly contact-free pickup at their pantry for members able to shop online using their online shopping system, and are also providing pre-packed bags for those not sufficiently internet-savvy to shop online.

City-wide food distribution organization Rethink Food, who operate out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is also working to help food insecure families and individuals prepare for the pandemic.

Staff packing meals at Rethink Food’s Brooklyn Navy Yard facility. Courtesy of Rethink Food.

“We bring food security to those who are food insecure – oftentimes these are people that are categorized as low-income, living below or even right at the poverty line, as well as homeless,” Executive Director and Founder Matt Jozwiak told us through email. “In times of crisis, there will be more in need, and we are here for everyone who may need us.”

While Rethink hasn’t experienced a significant increase in demand for meals as of Friday, they expect this to change soon. They’ll be working with Manhattan-based organization God’s Love We Deliver for help distributing meals to those who are sick, quarantined, or otherwise cannot acquire food on their own.

Citymeals on Wheels, which provides roughly two million meals a year to homebound elderly all over New York, had packed and delivered 20,000 meals to clients in Brooklyn over the past week as of Friday, with many more on the way. The total number of meals delivered in New York City on a weekly basis has increased significantly during the pandemic, said Executive Director Beth Shapiro — as of Friday, it’s nearly four times the number delivered in the weeks before and after Hurricane Sandy.

This kind of service is especially crucial for the elderly at this moment. “Unfortunately, older people are most at risk of more severe outcomes from coronavirus,” said Shapiro. “We’re dealing with the most vulnerable population in the city.”

The Department for the Aging (DFTA) has also been working to pre-supply the elderly with meals to ensure that they will have consistent access to food in the coming weeks. Thus far, 14,000 extra meals have been delivered to elderly individuals who were already homebound prior to the outbreak, said Suzanne Myklebust, Deputy Director of Public Affairs at DFTA. While Mayor de Blasio announced during yesterday’s press conference that he has chosen to close down all of the city’s senior centers, the centers will serve as “a dispensary to get quality meals out to seniors” via delivery or pickup during the pandemic, de Blasio said.

DFTA has also continued their existing partnership with Citymeals on Wheels, and will be providing an additional 96,000 shelf-stable meals to senior centers for distribution this week.

Other Brooklyn-based organizations providing food and prepared meals during the pandemic are St. John’s Bread and Life, who are providing pickup-only hot meals, and Reaching-Out Community Services, who are providing pre-packed bags of fresh produce, meat, and pantry items, which clients can order and pick up outside.

Please consider donating to these organizations using the links below:

Citymeals on Wheels
Rethink Meals
Reaching-Out Community Services
St. John’s Bread and Life

DFTA is providing volunteer opportunities  for those who wish to help during the pandemic.

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Rachel Lindy Baron

Rachel is a reporter for Bklyner and recent Brooklyn transplant who is a bit obsessed with food.

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