The evening food pantry is an outgrowth of discussions between the Forest Hills religious community and local nonprofit Queens Community House (QCH).
Local congregations of the Forest Hills interfaith community who are participating include St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, The Church-in-the-Gardens, The Reform Temple of Forest Hills, Forest Hills Jewish Center, First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills and Grace Lutheran Church.
“When we met last year, there was this great overlap between what we each wanted to accomplish in the community,” said Dennis Redmond, chief strategy officer of QCH. “It’s about neighbors helping neighbors.”
The various organizations initially met in January and chose to set up evening pantries so they would be more accessible to families who have work or school during the day.
The first pantry attracted about 20 families in April, while 55 families visited the May pantry.
Although the food pantry is currently only open the last Wednesday of each month, if the need is there QCH and organizers will look into expanding the hours and days.
“We are blessed with a large roster of volunteers,” said volunteer coordinator Dorie Berkowitz of the Forest Hills Jewish Center. “We’ve been fully staffed for our last two pantries, which is wonderful, and we really do try to have each of the congregations represented at the pantry so that you have a real community effort.”
There are two shifts for volunteers from the local congregations. The first shift involves sorting through the donated foods and creating on-the-go food packages.
The Food Bank for New York City has been donating food to the pantry while individual congregations are also contributing through internal food drives within local congregations.
Using sign-up sheets and a registration process, they are able to track new visitors and determine the age groups of those in need, which could affect what food is delivered.
Volunteers for the evening session coordinate and oversee the distribution.
“Everyone that I’ve met during this program are just loving, caring and delightful people,” Berkowitz said. “With all the rage and anger we hear about everyday in this world, it’s very reassuring to know that there is a larger community of caring people."
A newly formed partnership with the Forest Hills Shake Shack means 5 percent of sales from the The Austin Street Treat desert go to QCH. According to Redmond, the funds will go towards projects and programs that are not currently funded, such as the food pantry.
“We’re trying to develop more initiatives that don’t rely directly on government funding, and without those kinds of unrestricted funds it’s very hard to get those programs off the ground,” Redmond added. “You see a need, but you may not have the resources to automatically implement it, so this is a good example of something that those funds help us to do.”