Every Wednesday, people line up for the St. Peter’s Church food pantry at 435 E. 140th Street in Mott Haven. Some arrive with chairs at 3 a.m. to get a good spot in line. By the time the sun has risen, the line stretches down the block so far it becomes difficult to see the end.
The church itself closed in April for financial reasons, leaving the pantry without an indoor space to store food. Now the pantry has since been forced to reduce the amount of food it can accept, impacting several hundred people who rely on it.
Gloria Robinson, 54, has eight children, six of whom she feeds. She also suffers from lung disease. With a suitcase-sized shopping basket in tow outside the pantry, she said she used to fill up her whole basket with food before the closure. Now she receives less and has to rely on multiple pantries.
Robinson, who carries oxygen tanks everywhere she goes, pointed out that it is a challenge for her to walk or drive to get to each pantry, but she has no choice if she wants to fill her fridge so that she and her children have enough to eat. “I be depressed,” she said. “I have to come out here and beg for food.”
Before the closure, thousands of pounds of food, more than half the pantry’s supply, came from the New York City Food Bank and the rest from the food rescue organization City Harvest. Without storage, the pantry can only accept food on Wednesday mornings. The Food Bank didn’t deliver at consistent times and would sometimes deliver on Tuesdays. Without storage and an indoor space for volunteers to wait, the pantry can no longer accept Food Bank provisions.
Rachel Harper, 51, operator of the food pantry, said the Food Bank also used to provide a balanced variety of foods. People used to receive beans, canned food, cereals, condiments, cooking oil, vegetables and two types of meat.
City Harvest provides mostly produce so people receive less food and variety. On a recent Wednesday, people received a pack of chicken, cereal, lettuce and juice, not much compared to what they used to receive.
Harper has been looking for a new space for the pantry but hasn’t had any luck so far. “It makes me sick inside that nobody cared to keep the pantry open,” said Harper.
The lack of food accessibility comes at a particularly bad time for those who have lost a portion of their food stamp benefits recently. Human Resources Administration of New York City showed that over 146,000 people lost access to food stamps since 2017.
Since the closure, volunteers have been running the pantry out of an outdoor lot next to the church. Volunteers say they’ll be forced to close over the winter.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen,” said Lisa Oglivie, 52, a volunteer. “I pray that we get beautiful days for quite a bit of time.”