Ecumenical Food Pantry Feeds 500 Families a Week in Upper Manhattan

August 31, 2020

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, the Ecumenical Food Pantry has seen the need for its services almost double. The pantry typically serves 300 families a week--now they serve almost 500. They’ve been able to meet this growing need through a grant from the Columbia Neighbors Food Relief Fund, which works to address food insecurity in Upper Manhattan.

“While trying to be optimistic, the reality looks very dim, people will not be going back to work as quickly and food becomes an issue,” said Dianne Johnson, division director of Community Services at Catholic Charities. “Columbia has been a great supporter and appreciated our efforts, such as food drives, in the past. [We are] very grateful for consistent support.”

The Ecumenical Food Pantry, which has provided food relief in the Washington Heights community for 20 years, is part of a citywide network of 45 Catholic Charities food programs called “Feeding Our Neighbors.”

The pantry’s clients include low income families and individuals who are unemployed, underemployed or on a fixed income. All are welcome regardless of immigration status and that message is shared through outreach to day laborers, many of whom are undocumented, in the Bronx and Yonkers. Special accommodations are also made for senior citizens and vulnerable populations, such as through a program that provides meals to 250 homebound seniors in Manhattan and the Bronx. 

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic the pantry allowed people to pick food items, today they provide pre-bagged groceries containing enough food for 12-15 meals. The pantry works closely with the Mayor’s food czar, Kathryn Garcia, to provide support to the neediest communities. They have also created community-based pop up distribution sites, and partnered with other local organizations for food delivery.

Despite all of their efforts to increase services, the pandemic has led to another challenge: finding volunteers. Many volunteers were older adults who are now at high risk for contracting COVID-19 and now unable to participate in relief efforts. Those interested in volunteering for the Ecumenical Food Pantry should contact Carmen Reyes at carmen.reyes@archny.org.

“Pantries are even more important to provide help. I believe we will likely be in this space until spring of next year,” said Johnson.