In an effort to combat the issue, a recent partnership between New York City-based nonprofit UA3, Inc. and the office of Councilwoman Adrienne Adams distributes hundreds of boxes of food throughout Southeast Queens each week.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most dangerous challenges we have faced in our lifetime,” said Adams outside Union United Methodist Church in South Ozone Park last Wednesday. “It has touched every part of our city, and as a result so many people are struggling.”
She was joined by the leaders of several local, cross-cultural community-based organizations, as trucks unloaded more than 500 food boxes for this week’s drop off. The packages were divided up among each group to deliver within their networks.
Though more and more New Yorkers have been turning to local food pantries over the last seven months, Adams recognizes that limited access to nutritious food is not a new issue for her constituents. The district has been a longtime food desert.
From her time as chair of Community Board 12, Adams recalls voting overwhelmingly against several fast food chains looking to open in the area, only to see the establishments open anyway.
“Living in a food desert, it’s really incumbent upon us to try to look at long-term alternatives,” said Adams. “We have to look at growing our own. How do we teach children the meaning of horticulture? How do we teach them how to grow?
“This is not just a solemn time, but also a time for opportunity,” she added. “It’s about partnerships like this and understanding where we all are, what we need from each other and who’s here to help.”
One of the groups served by the UA3 initiative is 100 Suits for 100 Men, a nonprofit that focuses on socioeconomic issues in Southeast Queens. Though the organization does not traditionally deal with food programs, founder Kevin Livingston says the situation became so grave during the pandemic that he decided to pivot to food delivery in March.
As of last week, 100 Suits had distributed more than 14,000 care packages to local seniors.
UA3 President Donald Hong expressed a similar urgency regarding the nonprofit’s dive into food distribution.
Founded by Hong’s children, UA3 started out as a nonprofit that sought to shorten the digital divide, yet another socioeconomic disparity that has been emphasized as of late.
“Once the pandemic hit, education became secondary,” he said. “People were looking at survival.”
The organization partnered with Trader Joe’s, Lions International, and local pantries to procure and distribute the food in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Since extending into Queens, UA3 also facilitates weekly food box deliveries in Flushing, and the organization is looking to expand to additional neighborhoods including Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst.
What UA3 needs most now, says Hong, is funding to grow the food program.
“The truth is that for the 570 boxes that we brought here today, there’s probably about 3,000 people in this community who need it,” he said.