By Leon Suseran
Even as the Covid-19 pandemic dips in the New York City area, the lines at the Ozone Park food pantry do not. Now in its second year, the pantry, executed by the Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol (COPCP) serves hundreds of people every Saturday along Rockaway Boulevard and Digby Place.
But of recent, the food supplied by the city started to dwindle perhaps because the Covid numbers are trending downwards. But one thing did not: the need for food, proof in the long lines that still form on pantry days. The West Indian spoke to Executive Director of COPCP, Mohammad Khan, during a recent food distribution as he lamented how in recent weeks, the amount of food they’ve had to distribute to the poor, had been cut drastically by the city of New York.
Normally they would have 50-60 pallets of fresh food, however recently, “it’s been very limited at the moment which has left our pantry in large trouble.” The Ozone Park pantry, he said, serves over 8,000 members of various communities including Cityline, Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Howard Beach, South Ozone Park, parts of Richmond Hill, Cypress Hills, Middle Village, etc. “The line goes all the way around the block for 3-4 hours straight —people are waiting from 6,7 am in the morning, for food and our pantry does not start until 11am,” Khan said.
NYC has a programme that is called P-FRED or the Pandemic Food Reserve Emergency Distribution, established in 2020 in response to the pandemic public health crisis response to the increase in food insecurity that resulted from the pandemic.
The city website states that currently the P-FRED programme distributes fresh and shelf-stabled food to more than 400 COVID-response emergency feeding programs that serve the public, COPCP Ozone Park Pantry included.
The Director noted that just because NYC is “slowly getting out of Covid, does not mean that the community has money or the ability to go buy food.” He noted that people still need healthy options…”that they would buy in a regular store, because they are human.”
“Food is not a privilege; it’s a right, and we are taking this away—the City is kind of taking it away when you’re closing or limiting such programs that are putting food on their table, for their families, for their parents, children.”
“Do we make them homeless? Do we have them evicted from their houses because they can’t pay rent? Or vice versa on the other side to pay for food? We are leaving them with such choice where they can have a roof over their head or decide to buy food for their family—that’s not ok, I don’t think that’s ok.”
Khan hopes the city reconsiders its decision to reduce funding on the P-FRED programme, “or come up with a better programme or something else that would help this community and help the community of New York City.”
Khan said that the city needs to show a little bit more compassion to hungry New Yorkers, because we are all family, and stand by them today. Reduced to just over 7 to 8 pallets of food each week, Khan said COPCP has had to resort to buying food items out of pocket to bolster the supplies of food, just so the community can still come to expect the supplies they are always accustomed to each week.
“We need to be here for the community, so we are…unfortunately we don’t have as many options as we had previously, but we’re trying.”
Khan said he expects Mayor Eric Adams to stand by the community through these times as things are still ‘rough’ with families in relation to food. “Just don’t remember them when election time comes, but all around.”
“We might be getting out of the pandemic, but they still don’t have jobs ..we knew a few hundred people in this community, that has been looking for jobs for the past four months, and they are still yet to get jobs…”
He said it’s not like people are not trying, “they’re dropping their résumés off, but nothing’s coming..it’s an unfortunate situation…we. We should be getting out of COVID slowly and hopefully we will very soon, but the need will still be there…Covid did not create the need or the food insecurity in NYC—- food insecurity has always been there, Covid has just made it worse.”
Apart from distribution of food, other partners from time to time offer other services at the pantry, including free PPE, Covid19 testing, free broadband internet to qualifying persons etc.
The Biden Administration had announced a 7.9% inflation in February, a 40-year high. Compounded with rising gas and oil prices on the world market, almost every major commodity has seen substantial price increases in the past couple of months.
COPCP has numerous volunteers who give of themselves every single week. The President of COPCP is Iqbal Ali while the Pantry lead is Patricia Raghunandan.