LONG ISLAND CITY, QUEENS — A new food pantry based in Long Island City is on a mission to keep thousands of families across western Queens from going hungry during the pandemic.
Led by grassroots groups Queens Together and The Connected Chef and the New York City chapter of the nonprofit Brighter Bites, volunteers and paid workers will pack and deliver bags of fresh produce to 2,000 families every Tuesday.
The collaboration came together in mid-April after Brighter Bites, which distributes fresh produce at a number of schools in western Queens, contacted the organizers behind Queens Together in search of a way to distribute food while schools are closed.
Queens Together brought in fellow grassroots group The Connected Chef and leveraged its community connections to piece together a way to get the food from farm to table, according to organizer Jaime-Faye Bean.
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"Food insecurity is becoming a pretty severe issue in Queens, and it's only getting worse," Bean, co-founder of Queens Together, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Bean helped start Queens Together, originally called Astoria Together, to provide meals to first responders and hospital workers while supporting local restaurants.
One day, she agreed to drop off groceries for an extended family living next door to one another in Woodside. The family wasn't making any money, and none of them had eaten in 48 hours.
Bean said that moment showed her how dire the need is for food as families grapple with losing paychecks and school cafeterias amid the spread of the new coronavirus. Then, Brighter Bites came knocking with a list of 2,000 families to feed.
They organized the entire pantry initiative in just a week and delivered the first bags of groceries Tuesday, thanks to a team of volunteers and 10 unemployed restaurant workers hired to help pack and deliver the produce.
Brighter Bites is now looking to bring the pantry initiative to other parts of New York City, and Queens Together is partnering with restaurants to make and distribute prepared meals, including food appropriate for families celebrating Ramadan.
"Neighbors really are dependent on neighbors," Bean said.