Red Hook Food Pantry

Food pantry helps feed the neighborhood, by Nathan Weiser

People wait on line outside the food pantry.

If you look down the block on Van Dyke Street near Richards on Saturday mornings you will see all kinds of eager people waiting to get food to bring home.

Every Saturday, the Red Hook Bethel Gospel Tabernacle on 72 Van Dyke Street has offered a vital and in demand food pantry for the people of Red Hook for the last 10 years.

Volunteers will go pick up the food from Fairway Market a few blocks away and bring it back to the church at about 8:30 in the morning. There will be a line of people waiting to select their food out the door to the end of the block until about 11:15 and then some stragglers will continue to come until about noon.

According to Pastor Dave Anderson, “the people who get food from the food pantry resemble the United Nations.” Minister Miles Mims added that all different ethnicities will come to receive food at the pantry and people will usually take as much as they can carry.

A woman who regularly gets food at the food pantry lives in East New York but works in Red Hook. Her sister, whose name is Nancy, lives in Red Hook and they like that they are able to get food from this pantry.

The organizers and volunteers will continue giving out food until they run out. When I visited there was a young woman waiting near the door to check people’s ID and see how many people were in their family. People usually take food based on how many people they are bringing food home for.

Red Hook Gospel Tabernacle will give out fresh vegetables, deli meat, bread, juices, fruit, etc. They distribute food to about 70 families each Saturday.

“We grate it and take out the bad stuff,” Mims said. “We separate it and then we bag it up and give it to the people. We usually go until noon or until the food is gone.”

They give out all they can in the morning because they don’t want any of the food to go to waste. Volunteers are key to helping the process go smoothly.

“Everyone here is a volunteer and volunteers to help us out,” Mims added. “We give according to how {much} we get. Usually it comes out to two our three bags {per family}. Sometimes you get tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, we get deli foods, and we get prepared foods. As we get it we give it out.”

Once they get the food delivered from Fairway they make sure the all of the produce is clean so they make sure it is fresh enough to give it and that it has a decent shelf life. They have also received food donations from neighborhood community members.

Some people in Red Hook have given the pantry boxes of canned food that they give on Saturdays. They also sometimes get a 50-pound bag of rice that they will break up and give out to the guests.

In the first few years the pantry got food given to them by Costo but they stopped donating food after going through new management, according to Mims.

Neighborhood businesses help

The Gospel Tabernacle was purely able to solicit businesses in the neighborhood that might want to be involved with feeding the needy. In the end, they were able to get food from a business that is much closer to the church.

“We didn’t beg Fairway,” Mims said. “We just presented the need we had for this pantry and they caught on.”

The food they receive from Fairway was able to increase as a result of a relationship the church started with Tom Hoover, who is a Fairway administrator and ex Knick. Hoover is on the NBA Retirement Players Board.

“We were getting food from Fairway at first but then when he became knowledgeable of us and saw what we were doing he increased it through the NBA Association,” Mims added. 

Many of the same people will come every week. Some people tell their friends and some people in search of a quality pantry will even come from one of the four other boroughs, according to Mims. However, most of the people forming the line on Van Dyke Street are from the Red Hook Houses or live in the surrounding blocks.

The pantry has people who come once or twice a month, and then they also have many who will come every week. The volunteers at the Gospel Tabernacle get to form a relationship with the guests.

“I get to know most of the people and they know me,” Minister Mims said. “Once they come a couple of times they know that they have to wait on line and they have to get a number and they know the procedures and that there is no cutting in line.”

In the beginning they had a limited attendance of just people who lived in the surrounding area, but in the last three years the people have doubled. The minister remarked on the diversity of the people and that they will welcome anyone.

All the people have to do to get food at the food pantry is show ID at the door. They will sign in with the high school volunteer, show ID, and inform the volunteers of how many people are in their family.

“We have paper work to comply with the state because if we want to apply for a grant or another program that gives us more food, we have to show that we are servicing people,” Mims said.

“We are here to serve and give,” Mims said. “That is our main thing.”

Looking to expand

Their goal is expand what they permanently have in their space so they will not have to throw out what isn’t distributed on Saturdays.

“Fairway said that if you get some refrigerators, we will give you some refrigerated foods and frozen foods,” Minister Mims said. “We are working on getting refrigeration and expanding and getting shelving is needed because this is a tight space.”

They have to give out everything that they get because they are not able to store much food in the facility. Sometimes they throw out food that spoils as a result of not being able to give it away but this happens less than it used to.

According to Mims, the pantry serves on average 70 or 80 families a weekend but the number can sometimes go up to 90 families.

The food pantry often provides something additional to its guests for Thanksgiving as well as Christmas.

Mims had been in touch with Fairway hoping that they could give some turkeys to the pantry. Also, some people in the neighborhood will often donate some turkeys that will then be a distributed to the guests.

“Around Christmas time Fairway has given us candies, cookies and cakes that we give out,” Mims added. “This year we are gearing up to give out a meal, not a hot meal, but the preparations to make their own meal so we can give rice, potatoes and the trimmings.”

Volunteers preparing the food for distribution. (photos by Nathan Weiser)

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