Funding shortage forces food pantry to turn away hungry families

July 1, 2019 Paula Katinas
Hundreds of people lined up on New Utrecht Avenue outside Reaching-Out for Thanksgiving turkeys last year. Eagle file photo by Arthur de Gaeta
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A Bensonhurst-based organization that has provided food and social service referrals to people in need for nearly 30 years has had to turn away hungry families due to a shortage of funds, according to the group’s founder, Tom Neve.

Neve, the executive director of Reaching-Out, said he is seeing an increase in people coming to his office for help, despite statistics showing a strong U.S. economy. Reaching-Out, which sponsors a food pantry and helps clients apply for government programs, operates out of a space at 7708 New Utrecht Ave.

The dramatic increase in requests for assistance, coupled with stagnant funding from government and private sources, is causing big trouble for Reaching-Out, according to Neve.

The organization barely has enough money to continue assisting clients already on its roster, Neve said. As a result, he has stopped adding new clients.

“We had to start cutting back. We had to stop taking in new people from 11 ZIP codes. We serve families in 16 zip codes, so this is bad, that we had to cut off new people. Turning people away makes me sick,” Neve said.

Neve looked at the 16 ZIP codes he currently serves and made the painful decision to stop accepting new clients from 11 of those areas.

“Hundreds of people were trying to register with us. People ask me, ‘Why can’t we come here?’ I explain that I don’t have enough funding. When I say that, they always ask, ‘Where can we go for help?’ And I don’t have an answer,” he said.

If the organization doesn’t obtain more funding, Neve said he will be forced to make an even more drastic decision.

“The next step is cutting off people who are already registered with us and who we’ve been helping. We have thousands of families registered here. It would be really bad if we had to start cutting people off,” he said.

Reaching-Out currently serves 9,800 families and operates with a shoestring budget.

Neve, a retired New York City sanitation worker, established Reaching-Out on Bath Avenue in 1992. Within a few years, hundreds of families were coming in for help. He moved from Bath Avenue to a bigger space on New Utrecht Avenue. In 1996, Reaching-Out opened a supermarket-style food pantry in which clients pick their own food items from shelves instead of accepting hand-outs. “It’s more dignified for the families that way,” Neve said.

The organization holds special events each year, such as a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway and a back-to-school backpack distribution. Neve also organizes a Christmas party for children.

Reaching-Out does receive government funding. The City Council put $30,000 into the Fiscal Year 2020 budget for the organization at the behest of Councilmember Justin Brannan. And Neve’s group receives generous grants from the Rotary Club and other charitable organizations.

The public demand for help is so overwhelming that even with the funding, Neve can barely keep the doors open.

A few years ago, he was awarded an $80,000 food pantry grant. “That sounds like a lot of money, $80,000. But our rent alone is $49,000 a year,” he said.

Neve is hoping for more City Council funding. “We help people from all over Brooklyn. I’m always telling these councilmembers, ‘Please remember us when you’re doing your discretionary budgets. It’s your constituents I’m helping.’”

“We are grateful for whatever funding we get,” he added, “But we could use more.”

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