Food insecurity has been one of the most visible and tragic inequities that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated. According to City Harvest, 1 in 3 children in New York City and over 1.5 million people overall are struggling to feed themselves and their families right now. That is a 38% increase overall and a 64% increase in the number of children experiencing food insecurity during the pandemic, making a widespread problem experienced in low-income communities so much worse.
One of our long-time clients and community partners operates a small Food Pantry in Washington Heights. Created and run by Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) since the 1990’s, the pantry is a neighborhood fixture that is part of the organization’s overall mission to serve community members in need.
Beginning in March 2020, CLOTH’s pantry saw a 100% increase in demand. The existing staffing and space were not set up for such a surge. Lines formed down the block and the pantry had to shift from a model where people could choose their own groceries to one where pre-packed grab bags were handed out.
Early in the pandemic, CLOTH reached out to UQ and asked us to investigate designing an addition to handle the increased demand. While CLOTH’s staff and volunteers worked long hours and did what they had to do to deliver food, they saw ahead and knew this would not be a temporary problem – they asked us to help them create a long-term solution.
A few years ago we put together a design for an urban agricultural farm and educational center on a small vacant lot on West 158th Street that was to have tied together the food pantry and the community school that CLOTH founded in 2009. The goal for the pantry had been to expand choice to clients that included access to gardening and fresh food.
While the urban ag farm has not to come to fruition yet, the need to expand the pantry and the desire to provide dignity and choice for its clients has only been made more urgent. The new addition design is modest, yet it increases the amount of refrigerated storage by 50%. The more efficient layout also allows for more shelf storage for dried goods.
Altogether, CLOTH estimates that the new addition will accommodate another 50% increase in demand above current pandemic levels. Equally important, when clients sign up for an appointment time, the renovated pantry will allow clients space to select food items and pack their own bags – bringing dignity back to the process and experience.
The pantry addition has been selected as one of ten community projects for funding in Representative Espaillat’s Congressional District under a pending Appropriations Bill and we expect to begin construction this year. We like to think of it as a high impact project – the 500 sf space has more direct impact per sf on more people than just about any other project we’ve done. Coming out of a difficult year with so many deep-seated and structural issues to address, we are proud to be part of this one solution