Queens’ big pantry faces eviction – Queens Daily Eagle

By Jacob Kaye

A major food pantry based in northwest Queens that played a significant role in feeding struggling families during the height of the pandemic is facing eviction from its NYCHA headquarters.

La Jornada, a food pantry and immigrant service provider based in the Bland Houses in Flushing, will be forced out of its headquarters – one of 10 food distribution sites it operates – by the end of the month. With no place to go, the 10,000 Queens families he feeds will be forced to look elsewhere for their weekly groceries.

The food pantry’s impending closure comes as food insecurity rates remain high two years from the start of the pandemic and national inflation rates are driving up the prices of staple foods at city grocery stores.

“It’s going to be very, very, very ugly,” said La Jornada executive director Pedro Rodriguez. Eagle. “That’s the scary part.”

Public housing officials told Rodriguez that the pantry had become too large and had begun to interfere with the daily lives of the 500 families living in the Bland Houses – about 20% of Bland House residents use the pantry -eat, according to Rodriguez. . NYCHA management asked the nonprofit to resolve the issues, but was not satisfied with the response, according to a NYCHA spokesperson. The public housing authority is looking to fill the space with a youth scheme.

“La Jornada has agreed to vacate the space by the end of July and, with the help of the mayor and elected officials, they are looking for temporary and permanent locations that will be suitable for the work they do,” a doorman said. word of NYCHA. the Eagle.

To meet the continued demand for fresh, free groceries, Rodriguez said the food pantry needed 10,000 square feet of space for a warehouse and additional space for offices and bathrooms. class – the non-profit organization also provides services to immigrants, including English lessons and help with documentation.

Although he secured a meeting with Mayor Eric Adams and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz several weeks ago, the nonprofit has yet to be reassigned and will be forced out of the NYCHA compound. by July 31.

“I don’t care where it’s going to be,” Rodriguez said. “As long as we can serve these people.”

Rodriguez said the city had already offered him a potential spot at a school, but accepting the offer would be both an expensive and temporary solution.

Moving into the school in early August would cost the nonprofit about $20,000, and then another $20,000 at the end of the month, at the start of the school year.

“We won’t be able to be there until September, when the children go back to school,” he said. “So what am I going to do?”

The mayor’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Cruz’s office told the Eagle member did not have time to comment on Tuesday.

The Eagle Visited La Jornada on a recent Saturday this month. A fluctuating line of around 50 to 100 people snaked through the HLM complex throughout the morning. Each Queens resident made their way through the queue and into the first-floor space to confirm their appointment – ​​all 800 available appointments had been filled before the pantry opened.

After confirming their spot, residents received a bag of dry goods, several pounds of produce, a rib rack, and household supplies, including soap and hand sanitizer. All food and household items had been donated to the pantry.

Throughout the day, Rodriguez met privately with a number of the nonprofit’s clients, some of whom were new immigrants trying to figure out how to settle in Queens. A man walked in and left half an hour later with several bags full of donated clothes.

La Jornada was established in 2008. Operating out of a church in Bayside, the pantry primarily fed sandwiches to day laborers in the area. It slowly grew to serve approximately 25 neighborhood families before moving to Flushing and expanding its operations two years later. At its first Flushing location, the food pantry fed 5,000 families. It moved to a larger space and its population grew to 12,000 families, Rodriguez said.

Shortly before the onset of the pandemic, La Jornada entered into a service contract – not a lease – with NYCHA to operate out of the Bland Houses, opening the pantry one or two days a week to meet the needs of nearby residents.

But the pantry population exploded at the start of the pandemic. To keep up with demand, Rodriguez opened nearly a dozen mobile locations in northwest Queens, including one along the open street of 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights.

Resources poured in – more food was donated, more volunteers came in, local elected officials took notice, further raising the profile of the food pantry.

But even as demand grew, NYCHA had no problem with La Jornada operating outside of one of its buildings, according to the executive director.

“We told them we needed more space, we were going to need more days, and everything was like, ‘Go ahead,'” he said. “Everyone knew the urgency.”

“But then all of a sudden they said we had a problem,” he added.

Although the space was approved by the city’s health department, NYCHA officials told La Jornada that the operation had become too large and unruly, and that they had violated the rules of the agreement. on duty.

After meeting with Adams and Cruz earlier this month, Rodriguez said he has yet to receive an update on finding a new space.

“[Adams] says we’re going to give you a school, it’s temporary, but after that we’re going to give you a permanent place,” Rodriguez said. “That promise was two weeks ago.”

While La Jornada’s opaque future stems from a unique set of circumstances, the city’s pantries face a similar fate.

An emergency food program, known as the Pandemic Food Reserve Emergency Distribution Program, which was created by City Hall at the start of the pandemic and funded by federal COVID-19 relief funds, recently been hit by dark cuts.

“P-FRED was really established at the height of the pandemic,” Department of Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins said at a meeting of the City Council’s General Welfare Committee in March, THE reported. CITY. “We are seeing New Yorkers bouncing back and getting back to work and getting to the jobs they so deserve to be as part of the workforce.”

Food insecurity in New York remains high. According to a May report from City Harvest, food insecurity among children in New York is higher in 2022 than it was in 2020 and 2021.

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