Park Slope locals launch pop-up food pantry

A volunteer hands out food through a makeshift plastic divider on the pantry’s second day in operation.
Photo by Ben Verde

A group of Park Slopers have launched a pop-up food pantry to feed locals struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, and to help take some of the pressure off the neighborhood’s existing meal programs. 

Operating out of the Camp Friendship clubhouse on Eighth Street near Sixth Avenue since late May, a team of volunteers are distributing food to those who need it every Tuesday afternoon from 3 to 6 pm.

“The thing that was so frustrating with [COVID-19] was that the thing they were telling us to do was to go home and stay in your house and do nothing, and for so many people it was just driving us nuts,” said Chris Johnson, a leading organizer of the effort. “As things started to open up more, this seemed like something that was really essential.”

Johnson said the pop-up pantry aims to ease some of the strain on local operations like Fourth Avenue soup kitchen CHIPS, which has seen lines stretching down the block throughout the pandemic, and Sunset Park non-profit Center for Family Life, which sees people lining up hours early for daily meal distributions.

With minimal outreach — Johnson said he hung a few flyers near CHIPS and around the subway — the Camp Friendship pantry has already seen a swell of demand.

On its first day of operation, volunteers saw a steady flow of those in need of food — but they never had a line, and the pop-up pantry ran out of food by 5 pm. On its second week, a line had formed well before its 3 pm opening, and had stretched around the corner before 4 pm — a product of the service spreading through word-of-mouth, Johnson suspects.

On its most recent operating day, the pantry offered boxes of produce provided by City Harvest, kitchen staples like rice and beans, and prepared meals from the Brooklyn Relief Kitchen. But, organizers fear they may be unable to provide City Harvest produce in the future, and are hoping donations from the community will help sustain their efforts.

As thousands remain out of work due to the ongoing pandemic, it is estimated that one in four New Yorkers are food insecure. A report by the Food Bank for New York City released June 9 found that over one-third of full-time food pantries across the five boroughs were forced to close when they were needed most, exacerbating demand and dwindling supplies at those that weathered the storm.

With its ranks made up entirely of unpaid participants, the organizers of Park Slope’s newest pantry say they hope they can bring some relief to the existing system while keeping their neighbors fed. 

“The goal of this was simply to bring a little bit of relief, at least one day a week, for people who are waiting on these lines,” Johnson said.