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Hundreds of New Yorkers unemployed due to pandemic form a quarter-mile-long line for free food

Hundreds of New Yorkers unemployed due to pandemic form a quarter-mile-long line for free food

The Food Bank of New York estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of hungry New Yorkers across the five boroughs now.

Hundreds of New Yorkers formed a line stretching a quarter-mile last week as they waited to collect a week's worth of groceries from a food pantry. According to the New York Post, before the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc in the city, the La Jornada food pantry used to hand out groceries to roughly 1,000 families a week. However, with thousands of families left jobless and struggling to meet ends, the number now tops 10,000. Volunteers have also noticed a surge in the number of people they serve lunch to every day, many of whom are minors left hungry by their family's financial struggles.



 

 

The Food Bank of New York estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of hungry New Yorkers across the five boroughs now. "It reminds me of the picture from the Great Depression where a man in a suit and tie is giving another man in a suit and tie an apple. That's all he had," said La Jornada's Pedro Rodriguez. "We give all we have, but that's not enough." Those visiting the food pantry's truck include senior citizens, moms, kids, singles, etc., many of whom are immigrants from China and Mexico. They come in droves and wait in line for hours to collect food supplies from the truck whenever and wherever it shows up.



 

 

"We feel like we are underwater, drowning in a tsunami of people," revealed Rodriguez, a volunteer who acts as the food pantry's executive director. "This isn't like a little rain coming down. The numbers are unbelievable." On Saturday, Rodriguez and the almost 400-strong army of other La Jornada volunteers checked off almost 250 names from the appointment list in less than an hour. While in the pre-pandemic days, the food bank used to run on a first-come-first-serve basis, it had to change its modus operandi when the needy started showing up before dawn fearing that the non-profit would run out of food.



 

 

Once, in late March, the line for the food pantry truck stretched 28 blocks. Walter Barrera, who lost his construction job four months ago, still comes early to collect his family’s groceries for the coming week. The 50-year-old has stopped by the food pantry to pick up supplies — rice, potatoes, cans of soup, fruits, and vegetables — every Saturday since losing his job as neither he nor his 19 and 17-year-old sons have been able to find work.



 

 

He has managed to keep a roof over his family's head thanks to the generosity of friends and relatives who are helping him with the $2,300 a month he needs for the three-bedroom apartment in Flushing, where he lives with his wife and their sons. "What do I tell my children when they look at me with hungry bellies, especially my 11-year-old son?" said Barrera, who came from South America two decades ago. "It breaks my heart. I'm their father. I'm supposed to feed them." 40-year-old Julio Moncayo has a similar story to share as he struggles to make enough money to cover the $1,500 in rent for his family's two-bedroom apartment in Flushing or their grocery bill.



 

 

"I can't be proud, I have to come here. I have to feed my family. It’s tough. What am I going to do?" lamented Moncayo, a construction worker who puts in two or three days a week now. La Jornada's truck sets up at different locations on different days now to cover as much area as possible. While Sundays are reserved for Woodside, Rodriguez makes two stops in the Corona neighborhood on Wednesdays. Thursdays are for the roughly 900 who live in the public housing development — where the food pantry is based — and seniors and those with disabilities come on Fridays. "We were never prepared for this," said Rodriguez, "but we’ve grown into this."

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