Sunset Park’s food pantry The Table continues to help those in need during COVID-19 crisis
Continuing to help those in need.
As the COVID-19 pandemic leaves many out of work and with a lack of income for necessities such as food, Family Health Centers at NYU Langone’s food pantry The Table, 6025 Sixth Ave., is stepping up to the plate to help Brooklynites in need, especially Sunset Park residents.
Volunteers at The Table, in partnership with the emergency department at NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn, are working to bring food packages to all patients discharged from both the ER and in-patient services. Any person who is in need of food can receive food packages, with a three-day supply and suggested recipes.
Kathleen Barth, the community health education and outreach coordinator at the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone, discussed its significance.
“We just had our one-year anniversary and we were approached by the New York City Food Assistance Collaborative as being an identified neighborhood with high levels of food insecurity,” she said. “Once we were approached by them, they said they were interested in starting a food pantry here so they were very interested in a client choice approach which means that rather than having a pantry where you hand out bags, clients can come and actually have a grocery store.”
The food pantry is unique in that individuals enter a room with time and are able to select different food items from different food groups they can take home, reducing waste and providing items they will actually use in their home.
However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the pantry has had to operate differently and change its methods to fill the needs of locals.
“Typically before the pandemic we were serving a little over 100 families,” Barth said. “Last Friday, we served just under 500 families, so you can get a sense of how the demand has increased quite a bit.
They expect the number to keep going up.
“We are seeing increases every week so we have been applying for emergency relief plans and trying to get more funding as we can on site,” she said. “It has pretty much turned into a food distribution center. We serve a model we didn’t start with. We had to adjust to a grab and go approach.”
Customers grab a bag and leave as well as adhere to social distancing rules. Although not ideal, the pantry is still distributing substantial bags thanks to organizations that have stepped up during the pandemic.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate to be one of those pantries that hasn’t run out of food,” Barth added. “We’re always worried we will get to that point. You’re never sure what you’re going to get a week from now from the truck. But I think we are doing really well considering a lot of pantries have closed and we remain open. We are really fortunate.”
The Table has about six volunteers on site and a couple of staff members. They also also reach out to other organizations to volunteer.
“They’ve been wonderful and helpful,” Barth said of community members and organizations lending a helping hand. “Community members know we need help and reach out to help.”
Although The Table continues to provide an effective service, the feeling for Barth and volunteers is mixed.
“We are happy to be able to help and do something, but it’s also very sad with the state of the economy and what that means for our community,” she said. “We are grateful to provide what we can, especially knowing that unemployment is continuing to go up. Fridays are a pretty emotional day for us.”
“The most stress-inducing aspect is the availability of food and not knowing what we are going to get from the food bank each week,” said Sheldon Serkin of the pantry. “The volunteers pack the bag. It’s not until today (Thursday) until we know how much food we get.”
The Table also accommodates disabled individuals in need.
“For some clients that are homebound or disabled, we have been arranging home delivery on Fridays, working with Doctor Diana Fleisher (Clinical Assistant Prof of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics) and providing bags for people being discharged from the hospital from COVID,” said Barth. We see a lot of gratitude on behalf of the clients.”
Other programs people can access through the pantry are family support services and crisis intervention.
The Table also wants to assure that the food being distributed is healthy and nutritious.
“We have a partnership with an urban farm nearby Brooklyn Grange,” Barth explained. “Our whole plan is to provide our clients with vegetables and produce that would normally be high cost. We are providing it at no cost at all. That’s where these recipes come in. That dedication makes us unique.”
They also include healthy recipes.
The Table is a weekly service and is open Friday mornings.
“We are still taking appointments,” Barth said. “We have a massive walk-in line from people who hear about the pantry. But we have appointments we make every week. We like people to give a heads up to know they’re coming.”
For more information and to donate, visit nyulangone.org/give/fundraise/tablefoodpantry
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