Essay: Taking Care of Our Neighbors

Apr 19, 2022

During some of the worst of the pandemic, while walking each day from my home near St. Ignatius Loyola to my Midtown office and back, the homelessness and food insecurity that I saw had me feeling that I needed to do something. That something turned into my volunteering for, supporting, and then becoming the St. Ignatius Representative to the New York Common Pantry. I also joined Ignatian Social Justice Ministry, in part to help secure volunteers and contributions for the New York Common Pantry from St. Ignatius, and ultimately joined the board of the New York Common Pantry.

New York Common Pantry’s approach addresses the underlying causes of food insecurity through interconnected programs, including a food pantry and meal distribution programs, case management focused on resource acquisition, and nutrition education that together function to establish long-term independence for those we serve in the community.

St. Ignatius Loyola was a part of the founding of what was then the Yorkville Common Pantry, which in 1979-80 brought together several neighborhood churches and synagogues to feed 30 families. The mission and scope of the Common Pantry have grown throughout New York as has the need.

New York Common Pantry’s whole-person approach starts with food provision through the distribution of nutritious, fresh produce and dry goods pantry items. This is how it works:

– We buy nutritious quality food from diverse suppliers, including farmers. 60% of the food is sourced this way.

– We receive food donations from individuals, corporations, and charities for the remaining 40%.

– We distribute food to our sites and storage facilities in East Harlem and The Bronx.

– Volunteers and staff sort the food to prepare it for distribution.

– We distribute food at our Choice Pantries.

– We share food with partner organizations to expand our network and reach.

– We send food to far-flung neighborhoods using our fleet of Mobile Pantry vehicles.

Since the beginning of the pandemic and all the dislocations that it caused, our work has grown and we continue to have an impact. From March 16, 2020, through last week, NYCP distributed over 16 million meals with over 900,000 individuals served.

In addition to distributing food to our clients, we then go further to address the reasons for food insecurity with case management services through the work of Help 365, the social services department of New York Common Pantry, which assists Pantry visitors in gaining access to a variety of resources, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and housing and employment referrals.

NYCP’s Project Dignity connects homeless visitors to resources, hygiene services, and hot meals. There are showers, laundry facilities, haircuts, and mail services available. The goal of the program is to serve as a bridge back to health, well-being, and self-sufficiency for our homeless and hungry guests.

NYCP’s Live Healthy program teaches children and adults, particularly in the SNAP-eligible population, about the importance of a nutritionally sound diet and active living as well as provides them with the skills necessary to make healthier choices for their families.

What can we do here today?

– Volunteer at the Pantry, which is at 8 East 109th St., between Fifth and Madison. There are shifts available in the mornings and afternoons and one can sign up for one shift or whatever fits one’s schedule. The best way to start is to go to the New York Common Pantry website, which has a very easy-to-use portal for signing up to volunteer. The link is here: You will see some guidelines and some materials to sign before coming. When you create a profile in the volunteer hub, you will be prompted to type in a “join code”. If you could use our join code, which is “StIgnatius” and it is case sensitive, that would be greatly appreciated. We are trying to keep track of our collective efforts.

– Set up drives for food and hygiene products. The St. Vincent de Paul Society organizes some of these. Please participate. Also, each of us could do so in our schools, work, and buildings.

– Create sandwich-making events. Families and some schools, churches, and synagogues have been active in this and it is very helpful to New York Common Pantry to have food delivered.

– Monetary donations are of course important and welcomed. If you are so moved, the link to donate is here:

Thank you very much for our St. Ignatius community’s continued support of the New York Common Pantry.

Alan Pardee