Hour Children, a nonprofit that aids incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their children, is asking for food donations to restock their food pantry.
The nonprofit, located at 36-11 12th St. in Long Island City, was created almost 30 years ago when Sister Tesa Fitzgerald opened the convent at St. Rita’s Church to eight children whose mothers were incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
According to Rob Zopf, development director for Hour Children, Fitzgerald realized the “great need to provide services” to the mothers and their children to ensure that families could be successfully reunited after a release.
“We evolved from what was essentially a group home for eight kids to an agency that provides a whole variety of services with the goal of enabling incarcerated moms to be successfully reunited with their family after their release,” Zopf said.
The organization works with women incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, Rikers Island and Taconic Correctional Facility.
In addition to providing supportive housing, childcare programs and mental health support, the organization runs a food pantry out of their office in Long Island City. They use a “client choice” model that allows people to choose the items they want rather than receiving a pre-packaged bag of food.
The room is set up like a supermarket with volunteers handing out food and signs next to items that provide nutritional guidance. Cooking classes are also provided to teach people how to cook healthy meals.
“It feels like you’ve gone shopping and there’s a certain dignity in that and also, you’ve selected food that you and your family want to to eat, which also means that there’s apt to be less waste,” Zopf said.
He added that the pantry is looking for any non-perishable items but is also specifically seeking canned vegetables, canned fruits, brown rice, whole grains like pasta, cereals low in sugar, canned juice, canned fish, canned peanut butter, canned chicken, dry beans and canned beans.
People are also encouraged to make monetary donations, which will allow the organization to purchase food from wholesalers.
Zopf said that the nonprofit struggles this time of year because most of the canned food drives are held during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. During the organization’s last fiscal year, which begins in July, they serviced 8,100 people. This year, that number jumped to 9,400. Zopf estimates that Hour Children handed out 500,000 pounds of food last year.
The nonprofit is also located between two housing projects: Queensbridge Houses, the largest housing project in North America, and the Ravenswood Houses.
“You think of Long Island City and Astoria as a place with a lot of affluence, but there are also large housing projects and considerable pockets of poverty,” Zopf said. “[We created an] off-shoot of our regular mission just because we saw such need in the community.”
The donations are starting to trickle in and Zopf said businesses have also been calling to ask how they can help. Hour Children may have enough food to last them this week and Zopf is hopeful that the community will step up to help.
“It’s been really rewarding to see how the community has responded to knowing about this need,” he said.
For more information about the organization and to make a donation, visit the website.