The Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger (BSCAH) was founded in 1998 as a small traditional food pantry operating out of a church basement; we are now the largest pantry in Brooklyn, providing the basic staples of a well-balanced diet to more than 30,000 unduplicated, low-income individuals each month. Last year, we distributed food to provide approximately 3 million meals to New Yorkers. Designed to support its clients’ dignity as well as provide nourishment, BSCAH is unusual in allowing its clients to select fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and other staple items according to their preferences — much as they would in a supermarket.
Since Superstorm Sandy, the need for our services has increased exponentially and we continue to serve clients in the Rockaways, and Coney Island through our mobile efforts. During the month of November 2014, we served an unprecedented 37,000 unduplicated individuals, an increase that is largely attributable to the rising costs of living and stagnant wages. Additionally in 2014, through our tax preparation and filing initiatives we stimulated the local economy with more than $1,000,000 through income tax refunds.
BSCAH is situated at the intersection of the Bedford Stuyvesant, Brownsville and Ocean Hill neighborhoods of Brooklyn and as a result provides essential emergency food and supplemental social services to residents in all three surrounding neighborhoods. The largest segment of our client population (51%) comprises children. They are closely followed seniors which rests at 28% and our remaining clients include people with a range of barriers to health and independence (e.g., serious psychiatric or substance abuse issues; serious physical disabilities; past histories of incarceration/ homelessness). Most of our clients are African-American or Caribbean-American; some 25% are Latino or Haitian.
The staff and board of BSCAH have worked diligently on a Five Point Approach to comprehensively care for the Central Brooklyn community:
HEALTH: We have developed three programs in our core area of Health: Health 360 for seniors and adults, Stomp Out Obesity (SOO) for youth aged 12-21 years, and Healthy Bloomers for children aged 4-11 years. These programs focus on the diet- and lifestyle-related issues of 23,000 unique families served by our programs, through nutrition, cooking, physical fitness and gardening classes. We also offer health screenings, including dental and vision checkups and HIV testing, and enrollment for publicly supported health insurance. Since 2008, our Urban Agro-Educational program has grown from one 3,000 sq. ft. garden space to a robust operation of two farms and two gardens which have the capacity to yield 30,000 of fresh produce annually. Last growing season, half of our produce was distributed to more than 12 smaller pantries and senior centers through the Pantry Fresh Produce Initiative. The remainder was sold at a sliding scale at our farm stands, distributed in our pantry and sold to local restaurants.
Gen-NEXT: The purpose of Gen-Next is to assist youth and older learners in working together to better understand how to plan, manage and develop food systems and other vital community services. This portion of our programming includes our Green Teens, advanced youth gardeners; Urban Victory Farmers, senior graduates of our Health 360 program; our composting initiative, which utilizes spoiled produce from the food pantry to generate nutritious soil for our garden plots; our urban bee-keeping program; and our chicken coop.
REACH: The leadership and community of BSCAH understand that our program’s impact should not be limited to the confines of our current location. REACH includes online gardening, nutrition and cooking resources; mobile pantry sites in Coney Island and Far Rockaway; and collaborative efforts with several local schools to extend the reach and impact of our nutrition, cooking, fitness, and gardening classes. The success of our REACH program gave BSCAH the ability to act as a “first responder” on the ground when Hurricane Sandy hit. We continue to serve approximately 4,000 individuals per week at our mobile pantry sites. Our ongoing presence has been meeting the need of families in these areas on a weekly basis, and we now have a vibrant, multifaceted satellite site in Far Rockaway, Queens with free tax preparation services, SNAP (food stamps) benefits outreach, and food distribution.
WEALTH: With a community averaging less than $20,000 in annual salary, assistance with tax credits has become a vital financial lifeline. Our WEALTH plan includes our free tax preparation services and SNAP enrollment program. As an anchor site for the Food Bank of NYC, we have now engaged and collaborated with over 22 other emergency programs in the Tiered Engagement Network (TEN). TEN functions as a referral system, connecting needy families to BSCAH social services in a specific catchment area in Brooklyn by fostering partnerships with other agencies that do not have the infrastructure to offer our scope and level of social services. In 2014 we successfully accepted more than 360 TEN referrals.
ACCESS: BSCAH SuperPantry is our flagship program. Last year, we distributed food to provide over 3 million meals. Designed to support its clients’ dignity as well as provide nourishment, BSCAH is unusual in allowing its clients to select fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and other staple items according to their preferences — much as they would in a supermarket. We are unique among emergency food programs in Brooklyn because we are open five days per week and offer extended hours to accommodate the working poor. BSCAH distributes over 600,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables annually, giving each participant the ability to choose healthy foods from all of the food groups, sufficient to make nine to twelve balanced, nutritious meals each month. Fresh produce is readily available to all clients, especially those suffering from diabetes, hypertension and other chronic illness in a “food desert” community. A study by Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) revealed that 94% of central Brooklyn residents have inadequate produce consumption. Nearly 35% of Bed-Stuy residents live in poverty, about 15% suffer from diabetes, and 27% of adults are obese. Our SuperPantry fulfills the nutritional needs in this environment by emphasizing fresh and minimally processed healthy foods.