Volume 77 / Number 34 Jan. 23 - 29, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

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Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Family members outside Father’s Heart Ministries on E. 11th St. last Saturday morning, some of the 450 people who regularly attend the ministries’ food pantry program. The wagons lined up against the fence would soon be filled with free food to help local families get through the week.

As pantry program’s need increases, funding is cut

By Caroline N. Jackson

An East Village food pantry may be forced to shut down and discontinue providing meals to 450 people every Saturday if it can’t find the funds to pay for the program. The nonprofit Father’s Heart Ministries at 545 E. 11th St. had been receiving a grant from America’s Second Harvest — which was getting the funds from the Starr Foundation — to pay workers minimum wage to load and unload the supplies for the food pantry, but the agreement will not be renewed.

Pastor Carol Vedral of Father’s Heart said two years ago the food pantry closed when they could no longer get a steady stream of volunteers to handle the large quantities of food needed to feed the growing food line. Around the time they closed last time, the food pantry applied to America’s Second Harvest for funding.

“When they came, they understood our problem,” said Vedral. “They gave us a grant to provide stipends for these guys for two years.”
But Father’s Heart Ministries recently received a letter from America’s Second Harvest telling Father’s Heart they were unable to reapply for the funding. Starr Foundation will no longer be funding America’s Second Harvest in the area.

Vedral defended America’s Second Harvest and said that it is unusual for foundations to provide operation expenses for soup kitchens and food pantries.

“I don’t know why but it is notoriously so,” she said.

Ross Frazier of America’s Second Harvest explained that Father’s Heart Ministries can apply for other funding from them, but that the Starr Foundation had discontinued this type of funding after the end of the fiscal year.

“The Starr Foundation donated a lot of money to us over the years but they’ve chosen not to fund anti-hunger programs,” Frazier said. “We often get large donations like this with the understanding that we should distribute to specific goals.”

Most of the eight men the food pantry was paying stipends for their four hours a week of work are homeless. Vedral said the men’s steady work, pay and interaction with the program have been very stabilizing for them.

“We are all so discouraged, because not only did it provide great service to bring hundreds of cartons of food in, but we’ve really seen a great improvement in these guys’ lives,” she said.

The pantry, which also includes free weekly breakfasts (except for the first Saturday of each month), has also allowed Father’s Heart Ministries to register people and determine the demographics of those in need. Vedral said 60 percent of those who come to the food pantry are age 55 and older and, unfortunately, the numbers of those coming is increasing.

“I see more and more people as the economy gets tighter and tighter,” Vedral said. “Basically, people really need supplements and, for some, especially the elderly, the food pantry bag and all-you-can-eat breakfast help them make ends meet.”

Vedral said they have enough funding to pay the employees for six or seven more weeks and will keep the pantry open until this money runs out. They are appealing to other churches and volunteers to get the $440 they usually pay the workers, but Vedral said they could get by with $200.

“People are hearing about it, but it’s a big chunk of money we need,” she said.

Dr. Genata Carol, director of mental health services at the nearby AIDS Service Center, said she is concerned that the 15 or 20 of her patients who get meals at Father’s Heart will go hungry. She said the AIDS Service Center also provides food but it’s only once a month and for fewer people, so it will not be able to take on the overflow from the ministries’ pantry closing.

In addition to the pantry and free Saturday breakfasts, Father’s Heart Ministries also provides assistance with housing, healthcare and employment, English as a second language classes and guidance on applying for food stamps. Father’s Heart also runs a soup kitchen, which will not be affected by the lack of funding.

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