A Bensonhurst pantry that’s been providing food to needy families for almost 30 years has been forced to turn away hungry Brooklynites in the midst of funding shortages, according to the group’s executive director.
“This is now the horror story,” said Tom Neve, a Bensonhurst native and retired Department of Sanitation worker who founded the Reaching-Out Community Services in 1989.
Located on New Utrecht Avenue between 77th and 78th streets, the volunteer-based nonprofit is a staple of southern Brooklyn, offering a range of social services and food to 9,800 families from across the borough. But while donations have plateaued in recent years, demand for Reaching-Out’s services has grown, forcing the organization to turn away needy families, according to Neve.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we just can’t operate,” he said.
Neve, who receives a annual stipend and employs two full-time workers, says the nonprofit receives city funding, but claims that money fails to cover even a quarter of its costs. Last year, the City Council funneled $30,000 into Reaching-Out’s budget, and in April, Councilman Justin Brannan (D–Bay Ridge) pledged $42,500. Neve said he would need $450,000 in order to run the food pantry smoothly.
Local religious organizations and charity groups have also donated small sums to Reaching-Out, but according to Neve, the organization does not serve enough families to attract the attention of large foundations, making sizable checks hard to come by. And with Reaching-Out’s $48,000 annual rent, Neve has grown more desperate.
“I asked everybody [for funding],” Neve said. “I’ve reached out to [Council members] almost to beg them. But I feel like it’s fallen on deaf ears.”
In addition to its food pantry, Reaching-Out offers tax assistance and homeless outreach to low-income residents, as well as help applying to government assistance programs. The nonprofit also hosts several annual events, including a backpack giveaway that offers kids back-to-school gear, a Thanksgiving turkey donation event, and a yuletide extravaganza called “Operation Christmas Smiles” that features live performances by Disney characters, arcade games, and meet-and-greets with Santa Claus.
But with Reaching Out’s threadbare budget, the group has been forced to reel in its social services — eliminating its senior programming entirely — and has considered slashing its annual parties. Neve worries that if money does not come in soon, Reaching-Out will have to start cutting registered families by September.
“I don’t want to tell people to their faces that they can’t come here,” Neve said. “I don’t know where else they can go.”
Neve began Reaching-Out more than 30 years ago from the back of his used van, where he handed out hot food and clothing to Bensonhurst residents. In 1996, the organization established a supermarket-style food pantry out of its building on Bath Avenue, which allowed families to shop for groceries on shelves rather than taking donations. After moving to a larger facility in 2007, demand for the organization’s services soared: between 2015 and 2019, the number of registered members grew by 50 percent.
“People don’t want to come here, but they don’t have a choice,” said Neve, who hopes to come across more funding in the coming months.
“There is the financial support out there,” Neve said, citing a number of local foundations that donate to nonprofits like his. “How could they ignore what’s happening?”