The day started early with a walk to the Yorkville Common Pantry (YCP) only a few blocks away from the Hostel. Even though this day did not keep up with our wonderful weather streak, it still was a beautiful day to carry out the work we’ve started in the beginning of the week.
YCP distributes groceries to between 1600 and 1800 families every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I discovered that even though this program is focused on East Harlem, it also helps various areas throughout the New York City region. The YCP is a community based food pantry and relies on volunteers and the local area to help carry out the program’s mission. However, YCP does not just distribute food to families and individuals. It provides a range of services including shelter, medical services, nutritional education, and support to give affected people the chance to have a healthy, sustainable life.
At the YCP, we all took on different roles within the facility. I was first placed upstairs in the packing room. I sorted and packed various kinds of fresh produce including tomatoes, bread, peppers, onions and carrots. Each produce that was in good condition had to be put in plastic bags in order to make it easier to pack bigger grocery bags for families later on. With all the food that we packaged, we were readily given more food to sort and bag. At some points it was difficult to label the produce as unpalatable for the individuals and families. I realized that I did initially have high standards for my food; only eating fruits and vegetables that were fresh. With the limited amount of food, I found myself hesitating to throw out the food with minimal mold or damage. In some cases these defective parts could be removed. However, there were some disagreements between what quality of food should be in the packages. So many times, even a small defect in the product caused the food to be thrown away.
I felt guilty throwing away these foods. The food could have been distributed to more people, and more families. It made me realize that in some ways many people who had limited access to food had to accept food with a lesser quality. It is a matter between accepting food that is borderline edible and having no food at all.
After a good amount of time had passed, I had an opportunity to work downstairs and be more interactive with the individuals that came to the YCP to pick up bags of food. I sat at the desk, scanning in participants as they arrived. Each member had a card that depicted their designated day and time frame within the day to pick up food. The earliest time block was reserved for individuals consisting of one or two members in the family. Next, there were small families. Last, were the larger families who sometimes reached eight or nine members. If the individual picking up food came later than their time slot, unfortunately they could not redeem their food. It was hard to deny the people. You never know the reason why they are late; if public transportation was backed up, if their job ran late or any other possible difficulties.
Others came much earlier than their depicted times. I had to stack up all of their cards and wait until their time slot approached. They had to wait because the people packaging had to have time to prepare for the larger families.
Other students helped the members of the program pick out what produce they wanted in their grocery bags. There were limitations in the amount of food they could pick out. They were only allowed a certain amount of fruit, protein, and starch. Larger families were allowed more food in their bags. However, with all the food, only a few meals could be prepared for each family member. It was not enough to last the families a full two weeks.
The Yorkville Common Pantry is one of the many programs that try to create healthy and nutritional options available for those who have trouble accessing food. Overall, the YCP creates hope and provides a foundation for others to have the opportunity for a healthy, sustainable life. With all the support that this organization provides, there are still limitations in the amount of food they can provide.
The direct interactions with the members in the program and seeing the organization behind the scenes created bitter sweet emotions for me. I was joyed that I was able to assist the YCP and the members in the program but I also had a feeling of discontent because I could not offer more food, more options or fresher food.
After volunteering at the Yorkville Common Pantry, we all journeyed back to Pace University to write our letter to our local legislature. Although difficult at first, I was finally able to put everything I’ve learned into an issue that I have a new found passion for. I found myself stretching the time I had to write my essay because I did not want to leave. This week helped open my eyes, not only to this ongoing issue of homelessness and poverty, but to the members of the group I have grown so close to. Although all of us seem very different at a glance, we are all unified by our desire to fight for the rights of others and the passion to learn so that we can all become better advocates in support of this issue.