Proposed federal cuts to food aid, the upcoming summer months and the crushing hammer of gentrification is a recipe for disaster when it comes to hunger in the city. Although attention to hunger seems to gain attention during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, the need remains year-round.

“I’ve lived here a really long time—maybe 30 or 40 years. I live with my son, and I also take care of my grandchildren full time,” said Georgia L., a City Harvest recipient. “Today, I am getting food enough to feed five people. I come to the pantry every two weeks. Sometimes I also get food for my neighbors who are elderly and can’t walk.”

Brooklyn has the largest number of food insecure adults out of all the boroughs, according to advocacy group Hunger Free America. One in nine adults in Brooklyn who are working are food insecure. One out of every six seniors and just over 11 percent of children in the borough live in food insecure homes.

Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger By The Numbers

  • 3 million meals served in 2017
  • 30,000 individuals served each month
  • 51% of clients are children
  • 4,000 individuals served per week at mobile pantry sites
  • 600,000 lbs of fruits and vegetables distributed annually

“While unemployment decreased and wages rose during the last few years of the Obama administration, it is shameful that America, New York State and New York City all still have higher levels of hunger than before the Great Recession,” said Hunger Free American President and CEO Joel Berg. “We still face a nation, state and local epidemic of the ‘working hungry.’ Nationwide, the abysmally low minimum wage clearly is a chief cause of hunger.”

Celebrating 20 years in the community, the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger is the largest food pantry in Brooklyn. It serves 30,000 people each month and distributed 3 million meals last year. The organization also offers social services for clients, including help with employment training, financial literacy, food stamp screening and health education.

BSCAH was started in 1998 in the basement of a church as a small food pantry serving the Bed-Stuy community. Today, its reach extends to the Rockaways, Coney Island and the Bronx through mobile pantries.

A steady stream of residents with shopping carts come into the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger on Fulton Street on most weekday mornings as soon as the doors open at 10 a.m. Volunteers at the supermarket-style food pantry know that the 200-300 that come per day to pick up free groceries are just trying to meet a basic need.

“We wanted to make sure that we would not be just like any other pantry,” said BSCAH founder and executive director, Dr. Melony Samuels. “We train staff and volunteers to let them know that every person that walks in here is important. Everyone should be treated with compassion. They should know that we care.”

In 2006, Samuels created what is known at the “SuperPantry,” a method of distributing food to those in need in a supermarket setting rather distributing pre-packed food bag. BSCAH is the first supermarket-style pantry in Brooklyn where clients have a choice in the foods they want based on dietary needs and family size.

“So many times our poorest community members are treated with no dignity at all. They are stigmatized and set aside. Every person, no matter who they are, we believe that they should be treated the same way.” Samuels said.

More than 45 percent of emergency food providers in Brooklyn say they can’t meet the hunger demand, and 72 percent say they are seeing more clients utilizing their soup kitchen and/or food pantry. That is the case in the summer months, when most food pantries have less or close entirely.

Food that comes to BSCAH comes from City Harvest and Food Bank for NYC. During the summer, organically grown vegetables come from two small farms in Bed-Stuy and Far Rockaway that are operated by the organization’s 45 young people in Green Teens, an afterschool program and summer internship for local youth.

“Most of our produce is donated back to the food pantry, and then every Saturday we sell back to the community for a fraction of the price,” said Jenea Josephs, who coordinates the BSCAH community farms.

Even with help from volunteers, urban farms and donations, BSCAH is preparing for its summer season when more people come because of the closure of other food pantries during the summer. The organization is also grappling with a $150,000 loss in state funding diverted to another area in the state. The organization gets funding from the city’s Emergency Food Assistance Program, but Samuels said more money is needed for the city budget to accommodate the growing need. She has received help from Councilmembers Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Robert Cornegy, and Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have visited the pantry.

“Because of the funding that is missing, I’m saying to the Brooklyn delegation, ‘We have lost major funding, come in and help us now,’” Samuels said. “We know what families are going through. Everyone can access our services and we speak to those who are in position to donate and it can make a vast difference in this community.”

May 8 BSCAH is hosting its ninth annual Planter Awards and fundraising event celebrating its 20th anniversary. This year’s honorees are Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Andrew Hoan, New York City Economic Development Corp. President and CEO James Patchett and Dr. Brenda Greene, founder and executive director of the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College.