Antonio Minoza delivered a truckload of food to the parking lot behind St. Rita’s Church on September 1, a job that he had completed countless times before. However, he was making history with this particular delivery.
The boxes Minoza carried out of his truck marked the one-billionth pound of food delivered by City Harvest, New York’s first and largest food rescue organization.
Founded in 1982, City Harvest delivers food to nearly 400 food pantries, soup kitchens, community partners, and self-run mobile markets throughout the five boroughs.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the organization to deliver more food than ever before, bringing them to the billion-pound mark sooner than anticipated. The milestone serves as both a reason to celebrate a job well done and a reminder of the challenges that still remain.
“This delivery feels special, but this is what we do every day,” said City Harvest organizer Dan Lavoie, who looked on with a smile as the food arrived.
The truckload of fresh produce was being delivered to Hour Children, an Astoria-based organization dedicated to helping incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women.
Hour Children runs a food pantry in a rental space at St. Rita’s in Astoria, and has been a longtime partner of City Harvest.
“We are honored to receive City Harvest’s billionth pound of food rescued and delivered since their founding in 1982,” said Kellie Phelan, program coordinator at Hour Children. “Hour Children and City Harvest have worked hand-in-hand for years to provide New York City families with fresh, nutritious food.
“The number of New Yorkers in need has skyrocketed during the past 16 months, and we were able to rely on City Harvest every step of the way to provide us with more food for our growing pantry line,” she added. “This billionth pound milestone is a testament to the vital work that City Harvest has done for nearly four decades, and also a sobering reminder that the need for food in our city remains extremely high.”
Food insecurity has risen by a staggerin 41 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even more disturbingly, food insecurity has risen 53 percent among children in the five boroughs during the pandemic, especially within lower-income communities.
For the team at City Harvest, these developments have become a motivation to continue their work and to scale up the amount of food they deliver.
“I think people have become more aware of how close they are to food insecurity,” explained City Harvest organizer Jenique Jones, herself a New York native and current resident of Prospect Lefferts Gardens. “It really crystallized for people that insecurity is not something that affects lazy people or unemployed people or any of those things. It can affect anyone. I really think COVID highlighted that.”
Jones also believes that, despite all the difficulties that COVID has presented, it has positively helped change many people’s idea of how emergency food systems work.
“I think a lot of people think of emergency food as going and picking up a can of beans,” Jones said. “But when people come to City Harvest they realize that it is all fresh produce and good food.”
The team at City Harvest encourages people to visit cityharvest.org to find where and how they can access free emergency food. Currently the organization serves hundreds of locations in Queens and Brooklyn, and is preparing to move their headquarters to a new location in Sunset Park later this year.
As the billionth pound of food passed hands from City Harvest to Hour Children, members of both organizations smiled and posed for pictures. The work these people do is hard, but on days like last Wednesday, it is clear why they find it so worth doing.
“This is not a thankless job, and that is the amazing part,” said Jones. “You would be surprised how many people call you to thank you. I’ve been at City Harvest for 12 years, and the most impactful moment for me was when I got a voicemail from an older man crying and saying thank you. It really moves me and pushes me to keep working.”