The Buffalo Center for Health Equity (BCHE) has a goal of “eliminating race, economic, and geographic-based health inequities in Western NY.” Part of that goal is to ensure that everyone has access to healthier foods, especially during the pandemic. In neighborhoods where healthy foods are already tough to come across, these “food deserts” are especially hard hit during trying times.
As a way to get healthier food options into the hands of struggling families, BCHE operates First Fruits Food Pantry, at the Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church. Thanks to the primary sponsors, COVID Response Project and Cicatelli Associates Inc’s CDC funded Project R.E.A.C.H., the relaunch of this invaluable initiative, which helps distressed residents put food on their tables, was made possible.
The food pantry relaunched this past Saturday, according to Rita Hubbard-Robinson, who helps to oversee the project. With the reopening, comes “… an expanded space, increased freezer capacity, and greater diversity and more healthful food.” The latter is of utmost importance, because often times when pointing out the negative impacts of food deserts, we see that access to quality foods is tantamount. Corner stores typically sell cheap canned foods, packaged foods, sugary products, items with high fructose corn syrup – these are the types of foods that might fill someone up, but they eventually lead to obesity and health issues if they become overly depended upon.
That’s why community leaders such as the African American Health Equity Task Force and The Ferry Street Health & Wellness Project are joining the efforts, to lend a hand to those who are the “hardest hit.”.
The food pantry originally launched over a decade ago,” said Hubbard-Robinson. “Diane Cadle, who is now retired, saw a need in the community. It started off serving 5 families. This past Saturday, it served 30 families. People should be aware that in a week’s time, families faced with food insecurities in the US jumped from 30 million to 54 million, due to COVID-19. Those numbers are growing because the systems are breaking down – food packaging, restaurants closing, transportation problems, health aides are scarce, less retail, higher food prices, job loss, and housing issues which are going to get worse with a lack of a moratorium.”
Hubbard-Robinson told me that the food pantry has been a beacon of hope for families that are struggling. Many of these families have never been faced with anything like this – they are full of pride, and are hardworking and resourceful, but never anticipated anything like a pandemic to grip the country. She said that the First Fruits Food Pantry is perfectly positioned to help the families, including longtime residents and recent refugees, because it is close to public transportation on Main Street (the church is near Canisius College).
“Winter is coming,” Hubbard-Robinson reminded me. “It’s something that we should all be thinking about – sourcing food and clothing. We have been getting donations from all over the place – people are unexpectedly contacting us out of the blue. A synagogue in Amherst (Kehillat Ohr Tzion) recently made a donation. Our church donated meats for a huge new freezer, which was also donated. Anonymous people, and organizations, have been making donations. Nobody should be hungry. People are praying, to find out what they can do. Aside from feeding them nutritious foods, we are connecting them to other vital services. And on Saturdays, we deliver food door to door, because many people don’t have cars, and don’t want to leave their homes due to COVID. On Saturday, a gentleman came in and he was in tears when we handed him the food. We had to grab his bags and walk him to his car – he’s just trying to figure out how he will get by.”
Along with the donations, which can be be arranged for pick-up or dropped off at the church, Hubbard-Robinson also mentioned that young people from the AmeriCorps VISTA program and LISC AmeriCorps have been staffing the food pantry, which has helped to keep the wheels in motion.
First Fruits Food Pantry
Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church 641 Masten Avenue Buffalo, NY 14209 | (716) 884-7664
“Eliminating race, economic, and geographic-based health inequities by changing the social and economic conditions that cause illness and shorten lives.”
Lead image by Rachacha