A long line of people wrapped around several blocks of La Jornada food pantry waiting to take home groceries, while crates of emergency food, provided by the City’s Pandemic Food Reserve Emergency Distribution (P-FRED), were taken inside on Tuesday, Oct. 13.
The food pantry, located at 133-36 Roosevelt Ave., has been feeding thousands of Queens families for years, but has been put into overdrive since the pandemic began to hit the borough in March.
On Tuesday, dozens of people waited in the rain — not to pick up food, but just to be placed on their distribution list.
Several Queens elected officials joined the Mayor’s Office for Food Policy Director Kate MacKenzie of the Mayor’s Office for Food Policy to distribute the pallets of emergency food, including Congresswoman Grace Meng, Assembly members Catalina Cruz and Ron Kim, Councilman Peter Koo and Human Resources Administration Administrator Gary Jenkins.
La Jornada’s Executive Director Pedro Rodriguez also gave the officials a tour of the volunteer-run pantry.
“I am incredibly grateful to Congresswoman Meng, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, Mayor de Blasio, and Director MacKenzie for delivering 55 pallets of fresh produce today, which will help combat food insecurity in Queens,” said Rodriguez. “My organization has been at the forefront of ensuring our neediest families have the healthy food they need and deserve. No one should ever go hungry, especially during a national health crisis. Today’s delivery is in part due to Congresswoman Meng and Assemblywoman Cruz who are invaluable allies and friends. Because of their leadership, many families will have fresh fruit, vegetables and other staples to eat.”
The items on the pallets included apples, potatoes, oranges, yams, kale, peppers, grapes, carrots, cucumbers and celery.
Through the City’s P-FRED, Meng was able to secure 55 pallets of fresh produce to deliver to La Jornada.
The delivery comes in response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) change to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program’s (CFAP) Farmers to Families Food Boxes initiative, impacting which boroughs could be served by specific vendors.
Queens Congresswomen Meng and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said they’d work to remedy the issue after La Jornada began to petition for the program to be restored in response to receiving a letter from the USDA that it had canceled their program.
Many pantries in Queens, including La Jornada, which works with other pantries to help feed some of the hardest-hit communities in the borough, were suddenly without vendors or guidance on who they could contract with to purchase food supplies, as a result of the change.
Meng’s office noted the problem was further complicated because the USDA did not provide overlap in service, or general assistance to those suddenly without a vendor.
“I thank the mayor and Director MacKenzie for working with me to bring emergency food supplies to La Jornada,” said Meng. “USDA’s sudden changes to the CFAP initiative created confusion as food pantries suddenly found themselves with vendors who no longer could provide relief even though they have the capacity to do so. This left families in limbo and exacerbated existing hardship many face exposed to food insecurity. Because of COVID-19, people have lost their jobs and the Trump administration’s inability to lead this nation has meant additional challenges for my constituents. I hope today’s delivery will ensure La Jornada can continue its critical work to ensure that no family goes hungry.”
New York City is ensuring pantries are well-stocked with healthy food options, with a focus on fresh produce distribution in high-need neighborhoods, identified by the Task Force on Racial Equity and Inclusion, through the P-FRED program.
The initiative is leveraging the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds that were included in the City’s “Feeding New York” plan, a way to use available resources to meet the deepest of needs.
More than 300 pantries have received notification of the program and order forms so far, with plans to deliver over 31,000 more cases of fresh produce to emergency providers, totaling approximately 1.2 million pounds of fruits and vegetables.
Pantries interested in participating, especially those that serve the highest need communities, should email FoodReserve@cityhall.nyc.gov.
“Far too many New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet,” said MacKenzie. “The Pandemic Food Reserve Emergency Distribution Program is designed to ensure that food pantries in the city’s hardest hit areas have great quality fruits and vegetables. Through this program, putting a healthy dinner on the table can be just a little bit easier for our hungry neighbors.”
Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, who represents Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, said their community faced food insecurity “long before” the pandemic, but the issue has only been exacerbated.
“The federal government’s recent changes to the funding of crucial food pantry organizations such as La Jornada, has created a void for families who rely on these services to survive,” said Cruz. “I want to thank Congresswoman Grace Meng for her advocacy on behalf of thousands of families, as well as the mayor and Director MacKenzie for ensuring that La Jornada can continue feeding our neighbors in this time of crisis.”
Before the end of the elected officials’ visit, one volunteer walked up to them and said, “Don’t forget us!”
Additional reporting by Dean Moses.