May 24, 2021 By Christina Santucci
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson joined Councilmember Francisco Moya and community and religious leaders in East Elmhurst Saturday to announce $200,000 in funding for two programs that have been helping to feed those in need during the pandemic.
Half of the money will be allocated to the First Baptist Church food pantry in East Elmhurst, and the other $100,000 will be directed to Urban Upbound, a Long Island City-based nonprofit. The money will be used to purchase food.
Johnson and Moya held a news conference with First Baptist Church Pastor Patrick Young, East Elmhurst-Corona Civic Association President Larinda Hooks and Urban Upbound CEO Bishop Mitchell Taylor.
“When there was a shortage of food, you came here with the trucks and delivered them here – no questions asked,” Moya said of Taylor.
Prior to the pandemic Urban Upbound mainly provided public housing residents and other low-income New Yorkers with financial, academic and employment services. The organization expanded, however, due to COVID-19 and began distributing food to more than two dozen sites across the borough and beyond.
“When the pandemic hit, we knew that the population that we serve in public housing – in Far Rockaway, in Queensbridge, in East Harlem, all of the neighborhoods we serve – would suffer food insecurity, so we launched into action,” Taylor said.
Taylor said that at its height, the program was transporting about 250,000 pounds of donated food per week to nearly 30 locations, including First Baptist Church, Ravenswood and Woodside Houses as well as sites as far as Amityville, Long Island. Urban Upbound had to lease a warehouse in Long Island City last year to facilitate the storage and distribution.
Meanwhile officials from the First Baptist Church food pantry, which has been operating for more than 10 years, have seen the need increase dramatically since the start of the pandemic. The site now serves between 20,000 and 30,000 families per month. “Thirty thousand people – that’s a city,” Young said.
“It’s gotten much bigger over the years,” said Keica Edwards, Coordinator for the Outreach Program. She pointed to the line of people waiting to receive food, and said, “This goes on all day, until [the food] finishes.” The church also distributes prepared meals on Wednesdays.
Moya praised Young, Taylor, Hooks and the many volunteers who pitch in to distribute food.
“I’m just proud to not just represent this community – but to be part of this family that is able to come here every Saturday and help my brother and sisters in need, and that doesn’t happen alone,” Moya said.
Saturday’s announcement took place in the parking lot of First Baptist Church – as volunteers handed out fresh produce to a line of community members that stretched nearly around the entire block.
“I have been to sites all across the city that previously were not able to get access to healthy, freshy food,” Johnson said. “More than 30 percent of New Yorkers are relying on food pantries and soup kitchens across the City of New York, so the Council has stepped up.”
Johnson said that the City Council has increased allocations to food programs by $55 million over the past 14 months.