A new report from the Food Bank for New York City indicates that more than a third of the city’s food pantries shut down during the height of the pandemic. Here on the Lower East Side, however, the Vision Urbana Food Pantry, the only established operation of its kind in the neighborhood, actually scaled up its operations during the COVID-19 crisis.
Vision Urbana is a grassroots nonprofit group with close ties to Primitive Christian Church on East Broadway. The pantry has been in operation since 2018, so it was in good position to expand, meeting the needs of some of the LES’s most vulnerable residents during the past three months.
During the Memorial Day weekend, on May 23, a team of 65 volunteers from Vision Urbana delivered groceries to 885 seniors, with the support of the Food Bank for New York City. The stepped up deliveries of both fresh food boxes and hot meals are made possible through expanded partnerships with some of the Lower East Side’s settlement houses and local food-supply businesses (including grocery stores and restaurants). The group says it is serving 1,200 households each week.
The City of New York has struggled to address the food insecurity crisis unfolding across the five boroughs. The Department of Education may end up throwing out $800,000 worth of food before the fall, rather than finding a way to distribute it to people in need. Many people in Lower East Side public housing developments have reported that food from the city’s DeliveryTLC program is dumped in lobbies to rot. Some of the more successful efforts have been launched by groups with deep roots in NYC neighborhoods. An example is the Community First Food Pantry, which has been working in Chinatown and the Lower East Side in recent weeks.
Vision Urbana has been able to draw on several years of experience as a food pantry operator and decades of knowledge about the community. The organization was especially well prepared to serve the LES’s large NYCHA and Section 8 buildings, which have been hit so hard by COVID-19.
Recently Vision Urbana’s director, Eric Diaz was honored as a “LES Hero Next Door.” In accepting the award, he talked about the food pantry’s efforts during the past several weeks and said, “It just goes to show the absolute importance of grassroots organizations like Vision Urbana, and others, with a 24/7 ear to the ground and able to adapt and respond to crises quickly and without hesitation to address the immediate and critical needs of our residents. I am proud to work with them all and to be a born and bred son of the LES.”
Click here if you would like to arrange for a food delivery from Vision Urbana.