The Next 50: Park Slope's CHiPS Not Done Growing After 5 Decades

·4 min read

PARK SLOPE, BROOKLYN — Even when it started in the early 1970s, it was not in the nature of Park Slope soup kitchen CHiPS to stay stagnant for long.

Back then, the brainchild of Franciscan nuns in 1971, the organization started offering free coffee, sandwiches and other assistance to neighbors in need from its storefront each night.

Within a few years, it was open for meals all day.

By the early 1980s, it was setting up cots in the dining room to transform the kitchen into a shelter for a dozen homeless neighbors each night.

"Over the years it evolved into seeing that we can do more than just serve hot meals," CHiPS Executive Director Shivonne McKay told Patch. "50 years ago it was just clergy folk who wanted to do good work. [They] were able to galvanize the community to serve whoever was in need."

(Courtesy of CHiPS). Co-founder of CHiPS Paul Wilkes in its early days in the 1970s.
(Courtesy of CHiPS). Co-founder of CHiPS Paul Wilkes in its early days in the 1970s.

That commitment to growth hasn't stopped for CHiPS, which stands for Community Help in Park Slope, even as it reached the 50-year mark last year.

Today, the organization serves 150 to 200 people six days a week from its location on Fourth Avenue, which it bought in the 1990s, and is a home to up to 10 mothers and their children at a time in its shelter, known as the Francis Residence.

But under the direction of McKay, who started in late 2020, the organization is looking even further.

"I know CHiPS is mainly known as a Park Slope organization, but I would love CHiPS' footprint to expand beyond the Park Slope area," McKay told Patch. "There's an opportunity to help CHiPS go to the next level."

The start of that "next level" for CHiPS has begun, in part, by reaching out within the Park Slope area to those outside of the soup kitchen's walls on Fourth Avenue, McKay said.

In 2021, the organization began partnering with local complexes like the Gowanus Houses, setting up designated times twice a week that tenants could stop by and get services.

(Courtesy of CHiPS). The organization shown today.
(Courtesy of CHiPS). The organization shown today.

The collaboration sparked the idea to bring CHiPS' resources to local schools, churches and even other community organizations. CHiPS is in the early stages of setting up those partnerships, whether it be setting up times to visit the soup kitchen or providing food pantry items to organizations that need it, McKay said.

"As we think about the partnership model, it does include expanding to schools, daycares and [community-based organizations] that may not have access to resources," she said. "A lot of places are closing down their food support."

Like many organizations addressing food insecurity, CHiPS expansion was prompted in some part by an increased demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the height of the pandemic, 45 million people were facing food insecurity across the country, 10 million more than in 2019, according to Feeding America. In New York City, that meant that more than one in three New Yorkers visited a food pantry in the first year of the pandemic, according to City Harvest.

CHiPS was no different.

"We've got a lot of young adults coming in our lines, a lot of working families," McKay said, noting that pre-pandemic the majority of people visiting the soup kitchen were single men. "It speaks a lot to the working class and what's happening with them."

McKay said the possibility of school partnerships might go a long way in helping fulfill that need.

"We’re hearing more school aged children are in need," she said. "Family or caretakers are not having the resources."

CHiPS' next chapter might also include expanding its shelter services. Though likely further in the future, McKay said she envisions the possibility of moving to a larger facility where even more women and children can find shelter at CHiPS.

In the meantime, she's focused, as her predecessors were at CHiPS' start, on following the mission wherever it goes.

"We do know there is a need in other places," McKay said. "However we can support that — that’s what we want to do."

(Courtesy of CHiPS) CHiPS shown today.
(Courtesy of CHiPS) CHiPS shown today.

This article originally appeared on the Park Slope Patch

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