Queens lawmakers honor founder of Richmond Hill food pantry at Thanksgiving distribution event

President and CEO of River Fund New York Swami Durgas Das (fifth from left) with Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar (c.) and community leaders. (Photo courtesy of Councilwoman Adrienne Adams’s office)

Councilwoman Adrienne Adams’s office was joined by Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, a representative from the mayor’s office and community leaders at the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Distribution Day hosted by River Fund New York in Richmond Hill on Tuesday, Nov. 20. 

During the event, the lawmakers presented citations honoring Swami Durga Das, president and CEO of River Fund New York, in recognition of his 30 years of service to the community. 

From weekly food and grocery distributions to providing critical services to New Yorkers in need, Adams said Das and River Fund New York have been at the forefront of the fight against hunger and poverty for more than three decades. 

“Their commitment and dedication to helping and empowering families is truly worthy of recognition, and I am proud to honor their decades of service to Queens,” Adams said in a statement. “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate food insecurity and inequality in New York City, organizations like River Fund New York are needed now more than ever to assist families in need.”

A longtime staple in the Richmond Hill community, Das founded River Fund New York, located at 89-11 Lefferts Blvd., in 1991 with the mission of “feeding and empowering those we serve to move beyond the lines of poverty.” 

While providing hunger relief, River Fund offers nutritional education, income support and benefits enrollment services. River Fund serves more than 160,000 people every year through its programs, distribution events and other services.

“What River Fund does with its special programs is to attempt to provide normalcy with a caring embrace,” Das said. “It’s what we have strived to do every day for the last 30 years. We take poverty personally; we take humanity personally. Thirty years of River Fund means 30 years of embracing humanity, and it’s River Fund’s guiding principle. The best part of who we are is caring for each other.” 

Born and raised in Queens, Das attended Queens College and began his career as a volunteer case manager and coordinator for various AIDS organizations. 

In 1991, Das launched River Fund, which provides more than 2 million pounds of food monthly to over 3,000 households every week. 

Over the last three decades, River Fund has expanded from a one-person operation to an organization with 16 dedicated staff members and more than 120 volunteers who devote over 150,000 hours a year. 

Das has been previously recognized for his work by the Food Bank of New York, the New York Mets, City Harvest, Robin Hood Foundation and the Queens borough president’s office. Das was also a recipient of the William E. Simon Foundation Award at Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center and the New York City Technical College’s Gifts for Special Children Award.

According to Sherry Algredo, a member of Community Board 9, Das and all of his employees and volunteers have been a lifeline to many families who have benefited from the great service they provide to the community. 

“Every week, many families have food on their tables and other vital supplies due to their giving,” Algredo said. “I am very happy to see a place like this exist right here in Richmond Hill, Queens. While they have hit a landmark of 30 years, we look forward to having them around for many more years.”