Food pantries serve as an essential resource for many families in and around New York City, and they provide numerous opportunities for volunteers. Throughout the pandemic, the United States not only saw a rise in COVID-19 cases, but also a dramatic increase in food insecurity. When New York entered its “New York on Pause” to stop the virus’s spread, many businesses were forced to close. Many people who lost their jobs had difficulty feeding their families due to recent unemployment. According to Feeding America, 80% of food pantries are serving more people now than they did a year ago, and there has been about a 50% increase in demand for food pantry items in America.
In and around my hometown, various food pantries needed supplies. Seeing the newscasts of people waiting in food lines that went on for blocks just to be turned down as a result of the lack of food shattered my heart. After I saw these upsetting stories, I researched how I could support my community, and I found the Fran Boylan Pantry, which needed volunteers. I worked at the pantry throughout the summer and into this year. My role at the pantry is to fill bags with food, unload deliveries, and distribute food to the families in need. The time commitment was flexible so I could fit it with my schedule.
Before my volunteer work, my only experience with groceries was shopping at the supermarket. While I am mindful of money, I know that food and meals will always be available to me. The thought of going hungry had never occured to me. On food distribution days, I saw what bags filled with food meant to people who were not as lucky. In June, I was distributing bags, and one Spanish-speaking family needed certain foods for their children. The other volunteers were unable to translate and get the family what they needed, so when I was able to step in and help; the immense gratitude that the family displayed truly warmed my heart and felt extremely rewarding. The way their faces lit up left me with a sense of gratitude that I was able to help feed them. But the long line of cars opened my eyes to how many people in my community still needed food.
It felt very satisfying seeing the food I helped collect fill the empty shelves that would provide for families in need. I also met a lot of other nice people who were also volunteering. It was spiritually rewarding and I learned how small organizations function. Along with this sense of gratitude, I gained communication skills, improved my time management, learned how to best pack and distribute bags, and expanded my understanding of how food pantries work. It taught me not only how to recognize which foods are higher in demand, but inspired me to organize a drive in my neighborhood.
While volunteering at the Fran Boylan pantry, I had noticed that on food distribution days there were multiple requests for baby diapers. During our Thanksgiving drive, when we gave out turkeys, many families asked to trade them for diapers.
It was a fairly simple process. I started by printing out flyers requesting spare food and diaper donations. I distributed the flyers and set a date for pickup, enlisting my parents to help collect the material. My neighbors responded with overwhelming support as they cleaned out their pantries, bought diapers, and encouraged their friends to donate as well. Getting the food from my neighbors to the local pantry took less than a week.
Horace Mann students are extremely fortunate in many ways, in part because we have access to food whenever we need it. We are in a position where we can give back to the community that provides so much for us. There are about 500 pantries within the City’s five boroughs. There are new initiatives such as Pop Up Refrigerators and community fridges that provide free food for families in need to take with no questions asked. Moreover, food pantries are a great way to avoid wasting unused food. According to Feeding America, every year, donations to food pantries save approximately 2.68 million tons of safe, edible surplus food from being thrown out.
Organizing community food drives is a simple yet extremely effective way to make an impact on your community. I plan on expanding these food drives to other neighborhoods around me to further connect with the people in my town and encourage others to participate in donating. Many pantries often have flexible schedules and many needs, so you can choose when and how you want to volunteer. A small amount of effort can lead to a big change.