New York Common Pantry adapting to record migrant surge

By Jessi Mitchell for CBS New York, Published August 24, 2023

Find the original article here.

NEW YORK — The migrant crisis has put a serious strain on free resources like the ones offered by CBS New York community partner the New York Common Pantry in East Harlem.

“We’ve seen a 90% increase in first-timers,” said Judy Secon, NYCP’s deputy executive director.

Shopping carts surge towards bags filled with fresh food, as staff struggle to satisfy the demand of families. Outside, the line has grown longer for locals like Laura Rivera, but they have shown patience and understanding for new neighbors in critical need.

“It’s helpful, but it’s also a tragedy that it’s come to this, because I feel like there should be more help,” Rivera said while waiting.

“It is just overwhelming,” admitted Secon. “We have seen 600 families in July and August. Last year, the whole fiscal year from July to June, we saw 400 families.”

NYCP has had to adapt, making new connections to curate curry and other offerings to cater to the growing number of African immigrants. One man named Ibrahim left his home in Mauritania in hopes of starting a family, free from a dangerous dictatorship.

“I think it was the only opportunity to escape death,” Ibrahim said in French, “because I was also an activist. I was a protester like everyone else for my rights.”

NYCP is not only providing food for these families, they are also offering hygiene kits and back-to-school supplies, and organizers are already thinking about how to provide Thanksgiving packages for families who do not have a kitchen for cooking.

“Many people are coming here really not knowing what services are available to them,” Secon said. “At the beginning, people weren’t even knowing what shelter they were coming from. We were geomapping their phones to see where they were from.”

Katherine Meneses sought help at the pantry after her cousin noticed she was starving. The Venezuelan family arrived in Florida two weeks ago.

“At the time they handed us over, they separated me from my husband,” she said in Spanish, “and I don’t have contacts with his relatives in Florida, and so far I have no contact with my husband.”

All she wants is to be reunited with him.

Every day they face uncertainty, but these asylum seekers are grateful for the stability of a good meal and a helping hand.

NYCP has an Amazon wishlist for the items they need for hygiene kits. To contribute, click here.