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Bushwick Food Pantry Fortified With Grant Infusion as Demand Surges

A $2 million grant is giving Riseboro, a Bushwick nonprofit and food pantry, much needed stability as the number of visitors increases.

A $2 million grant is giving a Bushwick food pantry some stability and relief to combat a recent surge of people seeking help.

The community organization RiseBoro was one of 102 New York food service organizations that were awarded grant funds late last year by the New York Food for New York Families program. The funds are meant to help organizations give their communities access to healthy, local food. This comes just in time for RiseBoro as more people come to its pantry, which started back in March 2020.

Jasmine Bethancourt, supervisor of Community Food and Nutrition Programming, believes the discontinuation of the pandemic-era SNAP benefits last year is a factor.

"When we started, we were serving roughly 200 families a week," she said. "And now, there's not a week that goes by that we're not over that 200."

Last week, 342 families were served at the pantry, the highest number the organization has ever seen.

RiseBoro used to rely only on its partnerships with local restaurants, churches and the Harvest Home Farmer's Market but those partnerships would not have helped cover the increasing number of people, according to Bethancourt.

Fortunately, the new grant fund has allowed the pantry to secure additional food and further tighten its partnership with Harvest Home, which provides sourdough bread from a local baker and honey. It also provides dairy products such as milk, eggs and yogurt. Finally, there are fresh vegetables and some fruit put into each bag for every family who comes by each week. This is not only part of RiseBoro's promise to follow the grant's rules, but also its dedication to wellness.

"Many folks might see this as a negative, [but] we turn it into a positive," Bethancourt explained. "We're centered around wellness. Not only like mental health, but also making sure that folks are getting the nutrition that they need."

Aside from providing food, the pantry also conducts classes on diabetes prevention and management. There are cooking and yoga classes conducted on the premises, along with guidance on navigating the housing market. Financial literacy classes are also offered so those with food insecurity can find out why they are struggling. 

"It is not just saying you're food insecure, here's food," Bethancourt said. "And that's it, see you later. It's kind of like we get to know the folks that come on our line, just to see what other ways we could assist them."

Despite the $2 million grant infusion, Bethancourt said the pantry cannot rely on this funding alone; she and her team are always on the lookout for more money, especially at a time when the cost of living and food increase each year.

Back in January, the pantry emptied each Wednesday afternoon, 24 hours after the pantry opened, as if proving how widespread food insecurity is. Bethancourt said it is heartbreaking to turn someone away.

Despite this, she is thankful for the grant funds and knows it will help the pantry.

"I just feel really grateful for being able to do this work," she said. "I think it's important work. I think that food brings us together."