By Mary Deyns Brandão
As much as we love our farm shares, from time to time schedule constraints prevent us from picking up weekly allotments. If you’re like me, you’ve probably found yourself wondering where exactly those delightful herbs, vegetables and fruits end up. You probably know that the surplus volunteer on staff for the week delivers the unclaimed shares to a charity of his/her choice. The New Life Community Development Corporation (NLCDC) food pantry is one such beneficiary that has received vegetables from our CSA this year.
On a cool Saturday morning in September, I met with pantry manager Isaac Benelli at the old Elk’s Lodge in Rego Park, Queens to find out about the organization. The center itself is a bustling yet impressively well organized operation. Diverse people of all ages lined up to get food shares, clothing donations and routine health checks. There were many friendly faces. Isaac told me that the center is open round the clock to receive homeless who need hot showers. Others take advantage of basic services at the health clinic. Here, everyone is called a “guest.” The NLCDC also offers several youth and educational programs, including tutoring, ESL classes and scholarships.
When Forest Hills CSA shares are donated, they are either distributed as distinct whole food shares or integrated into meals at the hot food pantry. I asked Isaac about what it means to these groups to have farm fresh produce, and he said it is invaluable to the underserved. Many of the guests from Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights have limited or no access to healthcare or high quality, organic whole foods. They appreciate when the available foods are culturally appropriate and can therefore be easily integrated into Asian and Latino dishes. The food pantry receives some help from local restaurants as well as City Harvest. The day I visited, the items distributed included: dried mash potatoes, beans, and other non-perishables.
If you’d like to support these efforts, there are a few ways you can go about it. One of the most obvious is to remember their food pantry if there are surplus shares on your next volunteer distribution assignment. Secondly, you may donate food or clothing on a rolling basis. The NLCDC accepts food and clothing Monday-Saturday from 10am-9pm. You may also make a tax-deductible donation for the organization to purchase low-cost items from the Food Bank of NYC. Finally, if you’d like to give a little more, participate in their 5K run or volunteer to support their programs by contacting coordinator Julie Rivera at Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 424-0122.
While volunteer support is always welcome, it is especially needed during the summer months. Many of their volunteers are St. John’s University and other students, and during the summer, there is usually a deficit. That said, with the holiday season fast approaching, you may want to give a little more of your time to the community as a way to give thanks.
When I asked Isaac what inspired him to get involved in New Life’s church and food pantry, he said, “My uncle, who is a pastor, once told me to find a place to be of service that is outside of my everyday life and where I would not directly benefit.” Though Isaac may not directly benefit, the guests who rely on the food pantry’s services surely do—and his smile suggests that he feels pretty good about it.