City officials, local clergy, and representatives from housing coalitions came together on Thursday morning to officiate the opening of a new “Super Market”-style food pantry – the first of its kind for Manhattan’s East Side.
A press conference for the ribbon-cutting was held on the second floor terrace of the building at 1745 1st Ave. Rows of spaced out chairs slowly populated as multiple instances of “How are you” and “Thanks for coming” floated around.
Reverend Beverly Dempsey from Avenue Church opened the event by outlining how the building will be utilized. The first floor will hold an interfaith sanctuary. The second floor will, according to Rev. Dempsey, “someday” be a school, with the outdoor space—the press conference site—becoming a playground. A communal conference space, centered around “those who are in 12-step recovery,” will be on the third floor. The fourth floor will be reserved for mission and service groups to help run the facility, with the potential to convert it to a permanent residence.
Rev. Dempsey was followed by Jordan Tarwater, Executive Director of the Urban Outreach Center (UOC). Tarwater spoke with a beaming smile in front of UOC banners about a “vision of an East Harlem and the Upper East Side where no parent, no child, no senior citizen, no person experiencing homelessness will ever have to worry about where they’re getting their next meal.”
The Urban Outreach Center has served over 500,000 meals to more than 50,000 New Yorkers since March. They offer other human and social services, ranging from mail collection to maternal care.
Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Yorkville, Lenox Hill) spoke after Tarwater. He mentioned the 17,000 children an 12,000 families currently in homeless shelters. Rep. Kallos outlined how the project at 1745 1st Ave. came to be, recounting support that was expressed by State Senator Elizabeth Krueger and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
“I want to wake up in a city where everyone has a home,” said Kallos.
Kallos has been vocal about wanting to fill the City’s thousands of vacant apartments with people experiencing homelessness. You can read Kallos’ AMNY op-ed on the current housing crisis here.
“Even today, there are people in this city that would go to court to try to tell the homeless they can’t come here. What we’re here to say today is, ‘if you’re homeless, if you’re hungry, you are welcome here on the Upper East Side.’” The Councilmember referenced recent legal battles involving the homeless and emergency pandemic housing.
Rep. Kallos spoke positively of the “sense of pride and privilege” that comes with a “Super Market”-style food pantry, where people can roam and shop freely. After he spoke, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Social Services Steve Banks approached the podium.
Commissioner Banks began with a commitment to devote more resources to combatting homelessness and food insecurity on the Upper East Side. He remarked on a “historic increase in the number of people seeking food stamps” this year. He also acknowledged that food pantries are necessary because of the “sad reality” that federal food stamp benefits don’t cover one’s needs for the whole month.
Rev. Dempsey, Jordan Tarwater, Councilmember Kallos, and Commissioner Banks were joined by First Deputy Public Advocate Nick E. Smith, and Reverend Roy Cole from the Church of the Epiphany. Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright (D-Upper East Side, Yorkville, Roosevelt Island) and Ann Shalof from the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter gave remarks, as well as Saundrea Coleman of Community Board 8 and the Holmes-Isaacs Coalition. There was also a speech from a student at East Side Middle School.
The First Deputy Public Advocate drew clear lines on how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color, and highlighted this food pantry’s important role in easing the stress and trauma that many New Yorkers are experiencing.
Each speaker highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the City’s housing crisis and increased food insecurity. The event ended with a formal ribbon-cutting, carried out by all of the speakers.
Watch the ceremony as it was livestreamed on Councilmember Ben Kallos’ Facebook Page.