Ridgewood Food Pantries is struggling to keep up with demand after City Hall dramatically cut funding as it re-evaluates current food pantries needs ahead of the 2022-23 fiscal year.
the Pandemic Food Reserve Emergency Distribution Program (P-FRED) was established in 2020 to distribute fresh, shelf-stable food to over 400 feeding programs across the city as the COVID-19 pandemic increased food insecurity. Prior to Mayor Eric Adams’ inauguration, Ridgewood Pantry organizers worried whether his administration would continue to prioritize the program.
Matt Peterson of Woodbine, a local food pantry in Ridgewood, said that even though the town is no longer in the grip of the pandemic, families still need a lot of help.
“There’s this tendency to want to come out of the pandemic and the crisis, and for a lot of people they’re able to do that economically, but a lot of people can’t,” Peterson said. “The crisis is still being felt by many people in a profound way, including many people in Ridgewood. Without P-FRED, we would be in a much more difficult position.
Woodbine and Hungry Monk, as well as food pantries across the city, said they were receiving slightly more than the amount of funding they would typically use for a week through May. The fate of the P-FRED program hangs in the balance, leaving pantries scared and families desperate. According to Peterson, Woodbine received a grant of $12,000 to last until April, although he said his pantry typically spends around $8,000 in a single week.
“They effectively cut funding overnight with no real warning or notice or explanation and no communication about what happened next,” Peterson said.
A City Hall spokesperson confirmed that the city is re-evaluating the need for the P-FRED program.
“Food pantries have been a lifeline for New Yorkers facing food insecurity, especially during the pandemic,” the city hall spokesperson said in a statement to QNS. “We are evaluating evolving funding needs and options throughout the budget process and look forward to engaging with our partners at the state and federal levels to ensure these institutions have the resources they need to continue serving New- Yorkers in need.”
Local pantries say there is no need to reassess the need as they still see huge waves of families passing through their facilities each week.
Father Mike Lopez, the chef of Hungry Monk, said he learned of the news, not from an official communication from the city, but when his food orders simply didn’t turn up.
“We had nothing. We were closed. This was the first time since March 2020 that we didn’t have a fully stocked pantry,” Lopez said. “The fact that we are not able to get food to our people is the hardest part.”
Lopez doesn’t deny that the need for food has diminished since the peak of the pandemic. However, he called on the city to realize that there are still lingering economic hardships as well as inflationary costs, making it nearly impossible for struggling families.
“At the height of the pandemic, [we served] 10,000 families a week and now we are treating about 3,500 families a week,” Lopez said. “There was food insecurity before the pandemic. It went up during the pandemic, and it’s still going up now. With gas prices and food prices changing, people don’t have the resources to make ends meet in grocery stores.
Lopez said her pantry serves people from all over town, not just Ridgewood. He added that with his new budget, he will only be able to operate for one more day.
Maria Pérez said she and her family depended heavily on Hungry Monk as a single mother with a disabled child. Pérez shared that without the food Hungry Monk provides twice a week, his family would go hungry.
“I can only work part-time and I don’t have any papers,” Pérez said. “I am an immigrant and have lived here for 15 years. As food prices have risen so much, I will have no choice but to feed my children and miss meals for myself.
In an email to city pantries, the Human Resources Administration, which oversees P-FRED, said the program was supplementary during the pandemic but is “terminating”.
“We understand that these allocations are well below the very recent P-FRED request, but we are pleased that we were able to work within our budget to ensure that we can continue to supply additional products until our new [Emergency Food Assistance Program] contracts are in place,” the email reads.
The city will decide on the fiscal budget by July 1. Until then, the pantries are in the dark, unsure if they will still receive additional funding from the city that has helped so many families survive.