By Sam Bojarski
The nonprofit Life of Hope Center, which serves Haitian immigrants and their families, has launched a food pantry, joining at least 20 organizations in East Flatbush and surrounding neighborhoods with functioning pantries.
Each Saturday through April 17, community members can pick up a free box of food at the center’s 1377 Brooklyn Ave. entrance. The pantry operates from 1-3 p.m., on a first-come, first-served basis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced small businesses to close or operate at reduced capacity, a key driver of unemployment and financial hardship in the Haitian community, said Life of Hope Executive Director Porez Luxama. As a percentage of population, food insecurity in the Community District 17, which encompasses the neighborhoods of East Flatbush, Farragut and Rugby was the fourth-highest among 18 community districts in Brooklyn.
“It’s fresh food, [and produce], things they can use daily,” Luxama said. “It is a very, very, big need right now, because money is not coming, there is no money in the community.”
In partnership with Brooklyn Immigrant Community Support, a grassroots mutual aid group, Life of Hope plans to have 1,200 boxes of food available each Saturday.
Churches, nonprofits tackle hunger community-wide
Leftover food boxes will be distributed to Haitian-led churches in the community. Pastors who know they need food to distribute to congregants can call 917-216-3137 to schedule a food pickup, Luxama said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity in East Flatbush, a long-standing issue prior to 2020. A report from the Food Bank for New York City, which has a citywide network of over 1,000 food pantries, showed that as of 2019, 25% of residents in Brooklyn Community District 17 were food insecure.
Citywide, 38% of pantries in the Food Bank organization’s citywide network closed by mid-April 2020. Eleven of the 306 pantries that closed were located in Community District 17.
Data from the City Planning office, based on 2018 Census figures, shows that 15,129 people of Haitian descent reside in Community District 17, although this population is likely an undercount.
The Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center keeps an updated list of food pantries, in East Flatbush and nearby neighborhoods. Caribbean American Steel Pan Education Center, a nonprofit based in East New York, was among the 20 organizations listed as hosting a food pantry.
Held on Wednesdays from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at 511 Elton St., the organization’s pantry will continue until further notice. Each week, community members line up in the early-morning hours, said the Center’s Vice President Daphne Joseph, which highlights the ongoing food insecurity citywide.
“I don’t think anybody would punish themselves to come out [at] four in the morning for food if they didn’t really need it,” Joseph said. “A lot of people come from Staten Island, the Bronx, and of course Queens, to get food.”
Of the 2,000 people the Steel Pan center serves each week, Joseph estimated that one-third are Caribbean-American. Patrons can fill a shopping cart with food, she said, and the large portions continue to draw people from surrounding boroughs.
“They know when they come they can get a sizeable amount to feed their families,” said Joseph.
For more information on food pantries in East Flatbush and surrounding neighborhoods, click here. Call the pantry in advance, as times are subject to change.