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by Antonina Zielinska
With increasing federal budget cuts and a difficult economy, the food pantries of the Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens are struggling to provide assistance to a growing amount of people in need, said Nina Valmonte, a director of CCBQ.
She said a 40% decrease in aid from the federal government through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, has put many of the food pantries operated by CCBQ in jeopardy of not being able to continue its services.
Among those in jeopardy is the food pantry hosted by Our Lady of Solace, Coney Island, said Maria Shcherbel, social worker for Catholic Charities. Scherbal has been working with Our Lady of Solace for the past year and a half and has seen a 12% increase in need over the past fiscal year. They are now serving an average of 329 people a month.
She said people are now lining up at the front door of the pantry an hour before opening to make sure they are able to receive food. These people include single mothers, homeless people, senior citizens and people on a limited income.
James Fenner was among those who lined up early last Monday morning in front of Our Lady of Solace pantry. Fenner, who is no longer able to work, and his wife are raising two grandchildren. They rely on the food pantry to help make ends meet. He said they do not require a lot of aid, but he is thankful for small donations of food, and, at times, clothing.
Fenner said he is thankful to Catholic Charities because the agency is usually able to provide rations for him and his family. Other pantries, he said, only give out portions for individuals.
This week, however, he received food for one person because of budget cuts affecting Catholic Charities. After speaking with a social worker, he was given grocery bags of fresh and canned food to last one person three days.
Every person who seeks assistance from the food pantries at CCBQ first speaks to a social worker to register. This also allows the social workers to recommend other programs that may be beneficial to their clients. Shcherbel said this is done to make sure that as many people as possible receive the aid they need; anyone who asks for aid receives it.
However, the amount of aid they receive is limited. The pantry at Our Lady of Solace usually limits assistance to once a month, Shcherbel said. However, due to financial difficulties, this was cut to once every two months.
Valmonte said these difficulties are common among the 22 CCBQ pantries across Brooklyn and Queens, some who serve over 1,000 people. She said that although funding from the New York State Health Department has increased by 22%, this has not been enough to fill the gap.
In order to continue providing these services, Valmonte said Catholic Charities is now embarking on political and financial campaigning.
CCBQ has provided over 2,000 testimonials written on paper plates for a NYC Food Bank initiative. The plates were brought to the office of Brooklyn Congressman Ed Towns, on Dec. 5, both as a thank you for past support and a reminder of the ever growing need.
Catholic Charities is also asking for public support.
The organization has a webpage dedicated to walk supporters through political actions they can take, which can be found at: http://capwiz.com/ccbq.
In order to address the immediate need, CCBQ, is asking for financial and food donations. Information on how to help can be found at ccbq.org or by calling Martin Haggerty, 718-722-6099.
Robert Seibel, executive director of CCBQ, wrote a letter to the editor that said, “The hardest thing to do is explain to a hungry family that Catholic Charities simply does not have enough food to give them during a crisis. That is what happened this Thanksgiving as hundreds of families lined up for emergency food baskets at our network of 21 pantries throughout Brooklyn and Queens. Budget cuts have reduced our resources by more than 40% despite the fact that we have a 70% increase in need. This reality severely impacts our ability to feed the hungry.
“I recently met a forty-eight-year old aspiring fashion designer who lost her job as an administrative assistant and came to Catholic Charities during her time of need. Trying to make ends meet as she searched for employment, Catholic Charities provided her with much-needed food from our pantry until she was able to find a new job. We are helping more and more working families with food so that they can stretch their limited budgets. This year, Catholic Charities has already provided over four million meals to our hungry neighbors. It is not enough.
“I am asking you to join Catholic Charities in helping our neighbors this holiday season by dropping off nonperishable food items to a local food pantry, volunteering at one of our food pantries or simply making a donation through our website: www.ccbq.org. Together, we can preserve the dignity of our neighbors.”