In September and October, nearly one-third of adult New Yorkers reported that they had used a food pantry in the last year, according to a report published by Robin Hood in partnership with Columbia University. The staggering numbers represented a 250 percent increase relative to January and February, before the Covid-19 pandemic began in earnest.

New York City has long relied on a robust network of hundreds of pantries – a report released in June counted 796 across the five boroughs. With skyrocketing unemployment rates and a steady increase in the cost of groceries, food pantries became one of the main elements in the support network that kept people afloat in 2020. But as many as 38 percent of them were forced to close during the first half of the year, leaving residents uncertain of  where to get food for their families, and increasing the pressure on the pantries that continued to operate.

During the Christmas season, I visited three organizations involved in food distribution activities. They are Sustainable United Neighborhoods, in Bushwick; the St. Clement’s Episcopal Church food pantry, in Hell’s Kitchen; and Crossroads Community, which operates in Midtown Manhattan.  Hidden inside each organization is a microcosm of people with stories of commitment and selflessness.