BUSHWICK, BROOKLYN — Carlos and Anita Medina have 13-year-old twins at home, and the holidays will look different this year since Carlos has had far less work and Anita has stayed home to help the kids. They hope to bring home turkeys on Thanksgiving Day, but they won’t mind if the Thanksgiving meal is just chicken.
Food pantries across the city serve thousands of meals each Thanksgiving, but this year food banks in Bushwick, Brooklyn, expect to see longer lines than ever before. Local pantries that usually have no trouble providing whole turkeys to families are not sure they will have enough to give out this year.
According to a report by Food Bank NYC, nearly 1.2 million New Yorkers were food insecure before the pandemic. Since the pandemic started, there have been food shortages across the city, forcing the closure of 36% of the emergency food providers in Brooklyn alone. Bushwick pantries have felt these changes in recent months. Some pantries have longer lines as they become a resource for more and more people, while other pantries see fewer visitors because people are sick or unable to leave their homes. Despite these challenges, Bushwick’s pantries are doing their best to serve a Thanksgiving meal to anyone who walks by.
“The need is so overwhelming,” said Sara Ferrer, the gifts and kind coordinator at Metro World Child’s Bushwick location. Metro World Child plans to distribute 2,000 meals on Thanksgiving Day in Bushwick, which is double what they have done in past years. “It’s a blessing that we’ve been able to do it,” she said.
Ferrer said for Thanksgiving, they will shut down the corner of Himrod Street and Bushwick Avenue to set up tents and give out hot meals of chicken, rice, corn, and candy for the children. There will be music, and the children’s program mascots, Buddy and Bella, will likely make an appearance. Ferrer said they want to make it feel almost like a block party, giving a much-needed sense of holiday cheer. Ferrer said they hope to give out turkeys this year too, but like most pantries, they are not sure if enough will be donated.
Carlos and Anita Medina were at the end of a line that stretched three blocks on Saturday, Nov. 7, at Metro World Child’s 871 Bushwick Ave. location. Since they started going a few months ago, they often wait over three hours in line on Saturday mornings for a meal.
“It’s a different time because all my work is slow now. Before the pandemic, I didn’t need to come here for food,” said Carlos Medina. “You’re happy for something to serve on the table.”
This is a challenge that many families across the city have been facing since the start of the pandemic.
“Sadly, it’s not getting better,” said Janis Robinson, vice president of institutions and partnerships at Food Bank NYC. “People across the whole country are really experiencing a lot of fear and uncertainty as a result of COVID-19, and as a result, unemployment has soared. As unemployment rises, so does food insecurity.”
The Bethany Food Pantry on Suydam Street was forced to close at the start of the pandemic due to food shortages but reopened at the end of August. Sheena Shaw, director at the pantry, said her pantry’s lines have decreased as the pandemic has gone on, and the community is not coming for help the way they used to.
“I think [they’re] afraid, and I really hate to shudder at the thought, but I think I may have lost some of the community because I deal with the elderly,” said Shaw.
Shaw said she expects to see longer lines as the holidays near and the weather gets colder. The Bethany House pantry will be open the day before Thanksgiving. Shaw hopes to give out turkeys that week if enough are donated.
Metro World Child volunteers walked along the line of people waiting for meals on Saturday and ensured that each visitor had a card with the pantry’s Thanksgiving hours. Ferrer said the pandemic has been tough on the Bushwick community, but she hopes Metro World Child can continue to give back.
“We want to be there for the community and for the people struggling during the pandemic, and we want to continue to be hereafter,” Ferrer said. “It takes a lot for a person from New York City to ask for help.”
Resources: If you or anyone you know needs a Thanksgiving meal, or you would like to donate or volunteer, the following food pantries in Bushwick will be open on the day of or the week before.
Metro World Child: serving meals Thanksgiving Day at 11 a.m. at 871 Bushwick Ave. pantry at 871 Bushwick Ave. will be open Thanksgiving Day starting at 9 am, and volunteers will start distributing food at 11 a.m. Turkey status: hoping to have enough turkeys donated to give away.
Bethany Food Pantry: open Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 11 a.m. at 164 Suydam St. Turkey status: Hoping to have turkeys donated to then give away.
Haitian Evangelical Clergy: open Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 10 a.m. at 1139 Bushwick Ave. Turkey status: likely no turkeys.
Family Services Network of NY, Inc.: open Monday, Nov. 23, and Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 9 a.m. at 1420 Bushwick Ave. Turkey Status: Hope to have at least 100 turkeys to give away.
Make the Road New York: 201 Grove St., open Friday the week before and the day after Thanksgiving by appointment starting at 9 a.m. Turkey status: limited turkeys to give away at random or through a raffle.