Yorkville pantry helps hungry New Yorkers

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Maria Correa, 32, was employed with Macy’s as a vendor paid specialist in Manhattan just two years ago. The income from the job helped her to provide for not only for herself, but also for her children — all five of them.

But when economic crisis hit New York City, her life changed dramatically.

“When the recession went down and everything,” she said, “they ended up laying me off.”

Correa began turning to Yorkville Common Pantry on a weekly basis in order to feed her children.

“I’ve been coming here for about two years now, ever since I lost my job,” Correa said. “I have five children, you know. I have to survive.”

As the Correa household and other families prepare to celebrate the holiday season, a stagnant national economy means less money to put food on the table. In New York City alone, the jobless rate has hit 10 percent, according to the State Department of Labor. Those numbers mean that more New Yorkers are now living without a steady source of income than in the last 12 years.

In order to curb the threat of hunger for the unemployed, Yorkville Common Pantry in East Harlem is serving more than 1,800 families through their food distribution program, which runs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. With dozens of volunteers and a permanent staff, the resource center has made unprecedented efforts to feed hungry New Yorkers, with more than 2 million meals served in 2008. That figure makes YCP’s program the largest community-based food pantry in New York City.

And their numbers are growing.

YCP estimates their client base grew between 2007 and 2009 somewhere between 15 percent to 30 percent. With the nation in economic crisis, a sharp increase in clientele was no surprise to Steve Grimaldi, executive director of Yorkville Common Pantry.

Despite the recession, Grimaldi says food donations themselves have increased over the past year. While plenty of goods are coming in to distribute to clients, money can actually be stretched further in order to feed more mouths. With YCP receiving discounts from local grocers, Grimaldi says the pantry can provide clients with food that comes out to about 50 cents per meal.

In order to serve 2 million meals annually, the pantry relies heavily on private funding. Those numbers are down this year, meaning less food that can be distributed to each client.

“We had to cut back on types of food,” Grimaldi said. “While we’re still serving the same number of meals, it’s a little less meat, a little less dairy. And that’s what happens when contributions are down, meals are up.”

For Correa and her family, unemployment translates into a more downscaled Christmas than in years past. But by putting food on their table, the pantry program at YCP is bringing a sense of joy into their lives.

“When I come in the door with the food, they’re happy.” she said.