BENSONHURST — The old saying, “every little bit counts” is a rallying cry for the food pantry at St. Athanasius Parish.
Before the pandemic, this ministry helped about 10 people a week. Now, two years later, it serves about 200 households, sometimes more, at its weekly distribution in the parking lot of St. Athanasius Catholic Academy.
Pastor Msgr. David Cassato said his team has kept pace with the growth, relying on government funding to procure mass quantities of fresh food and nonperishable items.
But now, pantries and food banks are learning that emergency pandemic funds, administered by New York City, are on the decline and won’t be available starting in June.
“We used to get truckloads delivered,” Msgr. Cassato said. “So what happens now? We’re desperately looking for more donations.”
And every little bit helps, said Kenny Wodzanowski, director of youth ministries at St. Athanasius. Msgr. Cassato enlisted him to manage the food pantry as it grew.
Wodzanowski explained that the parish is applying for permanent long-term funding sources to replace the dwindling emergency pandemic dollars. He is confident that will happen, he just doesn’t know when.
To keep the pantry going in the meantime, the parish seeks donations of cash and packaged food items, such as canned goods, cereals, and baking mixes. Help has already come via a food drive organized by Eagle Scout candidates at Boy Scout Troop 99 at the parish.
Also, Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens helped secure food for the pantry. But the ministry still needs more donations.
“Maybe,” Wodzanowski said, “we can get some good-hearted individuals or even good-hearted businesses that might say, ‘Hey, we’d like to partner with you to help make sure this pantry doesn’t shut down, and that it still serves the people coming.’ ”
The weekly distributions were held on Wednesday afternoons, but the pantry shifted to Monday starting the week of May 16 to coincide with its regular fresh-food delivery.
In all, Wodzanowski estimated that at least $3,500 worth of food was distributed Wednesday, May 11; during the height of the pandemic at least $12,000 was the weekly cost.
Now, the possibility of a curtailed or shut-down pantry in June would coincide with summer, when local schoolchildren don’t have immediate access to free meals at school.
A range of possibilities are under consideration to address possible shortages, Wodzanowski said.
For example, the food distributions might shift from weekly to every other week. And patrons might be given less food to take home, which was already happening, he said.
During the last Wednesday distribution on May 11, patrons’ take-home items included a single fresh cucumber and a single pineapple. Previously they were allowed to take two of each.
Wodzanowski said the patrons generally come from Bensonhurst. About 80% are Asian, which reflects the changing demographic of the neighborhood.
Still, multiple languages are spoken by people lining up for food, including Romanian, Russian, Albanian, Spanish, and Creole.
“Most are not parishioners,” he said, “which also is another beautiful thing — that our church is a place that helps anybody. Anyone is welcome to come.”
One patron, Gordon Silverman, is Jewish, and his wife, Linda, is Catholic. He said they are retired and living on a fixed income, adding that the pantry and its volunteers have been very helpful.
Silverman also gives back by volunteering to distribute the food when he can.
“I go almost every week,” Silverman said. “When I first started there didn’t seem to be that many people. But as time went on, hundreds of people started showing up.”
“I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining,” he added. “I’m grateful for what they could do, and if they can’t do more, it is not their fault.”
Another patron, Mirtha Wong, said she was sad to learn that the pantry might have to cut back or even close until new funding is found.
“People are hungry because everything is so high with buying food,” she said. “You see the lines are long. People don’t go unless they need it.
“The only thing I can say about Mr. Kenny is good things. Not only him, but everyone with him works so hard. I am so thankful for them.”
To help, call Wodzanowski at 718-490-4469.