NEW YORK, N.Y.– Brooklyn has 232 listings of pantries, soup kitchens, food shelves, food banks and other setups, more than any other borough in New York City, according to foodpantries.org which provides a directory. Pantries, this writer was told by several sources, play a vital role in helping residents of East New York and Brownsville survive.
After several attempts at trying to contact pantries in East New York, this writer connected with New Hope Family Worship Center, and paid a visit one Saturday morning at 817 Livonia Avenue. New Hope’s pantry resembles a modest retail supermarket – sans checkout lanes with cashiers waiting for credit cards and cash for payment. There was a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in an area resembling the produce section of a modest retail food store.
Many who had queued up at the entrance to the food area brought carts and bags with them. Also, taking place at the same time was a large breakfast for a contingent of youth basketball players. The guest lecture was a member of the NYPD Community affairs talking candidly about the dire consequences of youth joining gangs.
The church was founded by Reverend Dr. Anthony M. Graham, who graduated from York College, has a Masters in Business Administration from St. John’s University and a Doctor of Ministry from Bakke Graduate University in Greenville, Texas.
New Hope Family Worship Center is described as “one church in three locations,” the Bronx, East New York and Staten Island. It has several missions, which are called ministries, but the one that particularly interested this writer was its social services programs for housing, jobs, immigration and other issues of serious concerns.
He described the New Hope’s food market as “a deliberate effort we make to let the community know it is valued. They come in and they look at what is there and they take what they feel they need. We look at that as a since of empowerment. Something we’ve been doing for quite a while and hope to continue. And the whole idea of giving them the opportunity to choose I think is a very powerful one so that we’re not just giving them something in a bag. The sole purpose in what we do is to touch men and women with the love of Jesus. To let them know that there is a God who cares. And we feel as if we are an extension of his love to the community. That’s our only motivation. We are here to be a blessing, we are blessed to be a blessing.”
He was asked about the needs of seniors who are members of his church, and he explained that New Hope provides help for non-parishioners as well.
“We find a need for fellowship, for relationship, a strong need for relationship. America worships the young and as people get older they are marginalized and cast aside,” he said. “And, so, as we love our community, as we love our church, we see the need to keep our seniors engaged. And of course they have a wealth of experience that can benefit so many groups. I hope to marry our seniors with our youth.”
“I find that our seniors have experiences, whether it’s secular, whether formal or informal education, they have it and, of course, and they have lived so much longer and if we can help our young people to see the value that our seniors have, I think it will benefit them immensely. So, we’re starting a mentoring program to connect our seniors and youth” he said.
How would that be done? “Our seniors are already coming to our building every day from 11 to 2 and we have a group that is coming daily and that number – we’re probably just a little under 20 – but that number will grow as the church continues to grow and people’s schedules open up.”
Asked how many seniors did not have fixed incomes, he estimated about 30 percent. How do they survive? He cited an example. “I had one dear lady say to me on a Saturday morning, and this really opens my eyes to the needs that exist in our community, she said to me, ‘Pastor Graham, the only groceries I get for the week are the groceries that I get from this church. And she went on to explain that she is in this country illegally and she’s a senior, has health issues, does not have to access to the privileges that so many take for granted and of course there is no Social Security — she’s here illegally.”
“She came to visit and decided to stay. She’ doesn’t want to go back because she’s been here so long yet she really isn’t prepared for life in America as an older woman and so who does she have? She has the church.”
New Hope is opened seven days a week because it is “inundated with all types of situations” of people in need, he said. ” The needs are so diverse and so many. And as the senior pastor, I continue to hold an outside job so that I’m not a burden to the church. So, we are able to continue operating because that burden is not upon the church. We can invest in the ministry, be a blessing to the community and of course to provide a paycheck to those who work here.”
The Reverend Graham was asked how he compares the lives of seniors who live in East New York and are part of his ministry with those at the other ministries in the Bronx and Staten Island. “There is great poverty in this city,” yet, he said, ” I find in the inner city, East New York, the poverty is more intense.” To be clear, he said, “there are problems in the Bronx also and other places also.”
Exploitation is also a problem. “If they are skilled, they’re getting a job where the employer will pay them below minimum wage” the reverend said. “And this whole poverty becomes a cyclical thing because there isn’t really improvement as they continue. It’s getting worse as they are getting older and more needs are beginning to manifest in their body and heir situations. And the resources are not there.”
He was asked about short term and long-term goals. “In the short term, we hope to access funding. In the long term, we’re hoping to have housing for our seniors and housing for those coming out of prison,” he said. “This is an area where we have a lot of men who are incarcerated and are coming back into the community and many times there are no programs available for them. We’re hoping by God’s grace to put something in place. If men are not meaningfully occupied there is a tendency for them to get into things that won’t benefit them.”
The church was considering purchasing one or two additional buildings. “Seniors are finding themselves in difficult situations and they are in needs of housing and as the church continues to love its community and love it’s people, we find the need to begin to address these basic issues,” he said.
He was asked what he saw on the horizon for East New York. “A lot of good things are beginning to happen. Gentrification is happening. So, there is an upgrading of housing” he said. “And, of course, these streets are much safer than they were a few years ago. My hope is that more jobs will come into our community, more support systems and services will be in place so that those who have been marginalized for years can begin to feel that they too have access to the American Dream. I hope that development take place. There’ll be more churches like us. I hope that more not-for-profits will rise up.”
“I find because of cheaper property, taxes less than they are in Manhattan and other upscale places, it’s more feasible to buy homes here in this community,” he said. “But as the upscale comes in, they push out the poor. Where do the poor go? A lot of properties are being redeveloped and sold. It’s good not to have burnt out buildings next to you or in front of you … but many times the poor are in those buildings so where do they go. They then go to the shelters. And that’s another experience.”
What did he consider the strength of East New York? “I find that in spite of its poverty it to be a welcoming community. We have found it to be a safe place. We have never had a stickup, a robbery, never had anything like that. In spite of the challenges all around … I find it as a place that is open to new ideas and new initiatives and finally I think it’s a good place to build. I’m always looking out for people who would be willing to partner and invest because this is a great place to be build.”
Gregg Morris wrote this series for the Amsterdam News supported by New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America with sponsorship from the Silver Century Foundation.