By Hayley Gorenberg
The Coop and community members have leaped into action to help a local soup kitchen and food pantry feed hundreds of migrants who have arrived in New York.
Around the New Year, “We saw a huge influx of people, and we didn’t know what was happening!” said Shanice Branch, the development director at Community Help in Park Slope, Inc. (CHiPS). A survey the organization distributed in Spanish and English quickly helped scope out the needs of newly arrived migrants, and CHiPS expanded its food pantry availability from a couple hours once weekly to two days each week. Lunch demand jumped from about 225 lunches per day to 300, then, on a recent day, to 338—until one day in February, CHiPS ran out of food.
THE COOP’S ROLE
The February PSFC food drive—one of two or three annually that are organized for CHiPS—helped stave off local hunger with 67 large banana boxes full of food and cash donations totaling $2,367.92, according to General Coordinator Elinoar Astrinsky, who joined the CHiPS board last year to further reinforce the Coop’s half-century partnership with the organization. “They were looking to cement that relationship by having someone from the Coop be part of their board, so I was happy to do that. I absolutely believe in their mission and everything they are doing.”
Though the Coop has long donated edible but unsalable produce and has run drives for additional items, Astrinsky said that upon joining the board she “realized that their food operations person had never actually been to the Coop—so I invited her, and we walked through the aisles, and she told me what kind of things people were looking for.” The walk-through helped sharpen the Coop’s response to CHiPS’ newest clientele, including families seeking asylum who are housed at a nearby hotel and single men at a local shelter.
THE DONATED FOOD
“It used to be that all our drives were basic pantry food that people could cook at home,” Astrinsky said. “The usual pasta, sauce, beans, some canned fish, some peanut butter, jelly—kinda more the staple-y things.”
By contrast, for the most recent food drive, the Coop pre-ordered pouches of food acceptable in shelters that won’t allow pop-top metal cans, as well as single-serve items in packaging that could be ripped open by hand. “Plastic fruit cups, juice boxes, a lot of one-time things,” were requested, with “a lot more packaging than we’re used to selling,” Astrinsky conceded. “They wanted cookies that were single-serve cookies. We don’t usually sell those, but people just needed snacks to tide them over to the next meal.” The Coop ordered and featured the items for purchase and donation when the food drive geared up.
WHAT COOP MEMBERS ARE DOING
Membership Coordinator Jacquelyn Scaduto and a group of members experienced in running PSFC food drives pitched the drive over the paging system, further alerting members about what CHiPS needed. The Coop displayed key items on endcaps and filled banana boxes to load on carts bound for the food kitchen. Astrinsky, herself a Coop member since 1992 and a General Coordinator for over a decade, marveled at the response, even as she said it was not unusual. “The numbers are amazing. [Members] always rise to the occasion!”
In addition to the drives, the Coop rolls U-boats of produce to CHiPS every couple of days, and some Coop members fulfill their shifts by working in the CHiPS kitchen. “Some of the most consistent volunteers [at CHiPS] are Coop members,” Astrinsky said. The shift system contributes to regular scheduling, “and they just love it,” she remarked. “They’ve been doing their shifts for many years.” The Coop has gradually added more shifts for cooking and pantry food distribution, depending on the needs at CHiPS.
CHiPS hopes community members will help meet their ongoing needs by contributing in three specific ways, according to Development Director Shanice Branch.
The CHiPS wish list is available here.
Donations are accepted for drop off Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at CHiPS, located at 200 4th Ave., between Sackett Street and Degraw Street. CHiPS will also accept hot meals and cooked food for lunch (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.). “Some people bring trays of lasagna, chicken and rice,” Branch said. “Restaurants are dropping off, too. Someone brought a roasted pork shoulder!”
Hayley Gorenberg joined the Coop in 1993 and became a Gazette reporter soon thereafter.