This past Thursday, they set up a food pantry in the parking lot of Blessed Sacrament Church in Cyprus Hills.
“We have been taking people in since 8:30 a.m.,” explained Debbie Hampson, senior director of Community Health and Wellness Services for Catholic Charities, during the event. “We usually serve about 800 families.”
Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens operates 49 food pantries. However, when the pandemic hit last spring, the group saw a 1,000 percent increase in food requests from families in need.
In response, they began organizing the pop-up pantry events, and have since distributed over $3.4 million in food assistance to families experiencing food insecurity as a result of COVID-19.
“At the beginning we were doing this every week,” Hampson explained, “and at that time we were serving close to 1,500 families.”
Each pop-up food pantry event requires a great amount of planning and organization. Members of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens and other volunteers fill bags with prepackaged foods the night before.
During the event, the group distributes the pre-filled bags, as well as fresh produce, dairy, and meat items on a first-come, first-served basis.
“It’s almost like a farmer’s market,” Hampson said as the group distributed food to attendees.
In addition to food, the pop-up event offers free COVID-19 testing and possibly COVID-19 vaccines in the near future. Catholic Charities has also partnered with the insurance provider BlueCross BlueShield, the food assistance program SNAP, and the COVID-19 emotional support helpline NY Project Hope, all of which had a presence at Thursday’s event.
“Besides being able to provide food, we want to let people know that they are not alone,” said Hampson. “We have counseling for folks because we know a lot of people have been depressed and anxious during the pandemic.”
Despite the ongoing challenges the pandemic poses, Thursday’s event very much felt like a celebration, with a DJ playing radio hits and taking requests.
Additionally, a large number of volunteers were also present, including members of the Carpenter’s Union, EJ Electric, and many parishioners from Blessed Sacrament Church.
Former Brooklyn state senator Marty Golden was in attendance as well, assisting with the food distribution and cracking jokes with the other volunteers.
“People were lined up around the corner earlier today,” he said. “We need to be there for people who are struggling during this difficult time.”
While some volunteers continued to man the food line, others went to the Blessed Sacrament Rectory for a special lunch buffet organized by the church. During the meal, the Star caught up with
“Food is a part of the community,” said John Gonzalez, an organizer for Catholic Charities. “We are happy that we can share it with our volunteers and local families.”
Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens is currently holding pop-up food pantry events every other Thursday, alternating between locations in Brooklyn and Queens. The next event is tentatively scheduled for May 6 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Astoria.
For more information on all of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens food pantries and programming, visit their website at ccbq.org.