As Unemployment Rises, A Free Grocery Service on 72nd Street Feeds a Growing Number of People

Photos by Stephen Harmon.

By Mariel Priven

Hundreds of individuals, many of them women, waited in line Monday morning to receive free groceries from the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) on 72nd between Broadway and West End. Though the line may be longer and now catch your attention — with numbers growing from 100–200 to 300–350 during these pandemic months — this emergency food program has been running since 1983.

“I come here every week,” shared Jackie Pollen, a recipient waiting in line Monday morning. “Monday at 9:30 they open the pantry and you stand in line and get two bags of fresh fruit and vegetables, and one large bag of cans, cereal, and rice.”

The Monday Food Pantry is just one of many programs offered to Manhattan residents by NCJW, and it has proven to be a key resource during the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, individuals were allowed to utilize the pantry only once a month. Now, in an effort to meet the growing needs of many and with the elimination of the check-in process to cut down on exposure risk, many clients return each week.

Ivonne, a Spanish-speaking recipient, explained that she comes to NCJW whenever she does not have work, a circumstance which has, for many, been amplified by COVID-19. She said that she does not usually have to wait in line, though this morning the line stretched to Broadway between 72nd and 73rd.

Upon arrival at the entrance to NCJW’s front door, clients wait to receive their food items through contact-less service — standing six feet away as the bags are placed on a table, which they then pick up and take. Normally, most of the volunteers who hand out food are over the age of 60. Many of the seniors who participate in NCJW programs enjoy volunteering. But for now, they have been asked to remain home, and other volunteers and director-level staff have taken over. “Health comes first,” said Andrea Salwen Kopel, NCJW New York’s executive director.

NCJW also has a Community Kitchen program, which serves free, hot meals on Wednesdays and Sundays, typically attracting 50 and 100 clients, respectively. “There are no qualifications for either of these programs,” Salwen Kopel explained. “Anyone who presents and says they are in need of food” can participate.

NCJW relies on in-kind donations as well as purchases to provide the necessary food to their clients. In addition to partnerships with the United Way and Food Bank, new funding streams have sprung up in response to the pandemic. Nourish NY gives NCJW a grant to spend so long as the money is used to purchase produce and dairy from NY-based farms. This has allowed for dairy products such as milk, yogurts, and cheeses to be added to the groceries handed out.

“This crisis has laid bare the needs, problems, and huge inequities that we already had in this city. The problem of food insecurity is not new. We already had so many people in our city who lacked the basic resources that they need to feed their families independently,” said Salwen Kopel.

The pandemic has certainly placed many in greater need for basic resources such as food, but NCJW has provided this support for decades. “I wish [our clients] were making decent wages to buy their food at a supermarket in their neighborhood. I wish our food pantry and kitchen would be put out of business because they didn’t need us anymore.”

Learn more about donating here.

FOOD, NEWS | 15 comments | permalink
    1. Melissa says:

      Are they still doing this every Monday morning?


    2. LivableCity says:

      Thanks West Side Rag for shining a light on NCJW and their decades of good work in our area. Kudos to Salween Kopel for rising to the moment, and also for sharing the long view – that with fairer wages and better supports for basic needs, a city like ours might not need so many food pantries

    3. Harriet says:

      I live near here and wanted to help. I sought out the website to make donations to buy groceries.
      You can choose which program you wish to contribute to.

    4. Tamara Kirson says:

      Thank you, Harriet, for providing the link as I will now donate to this food bank, also.

      I had no idea about the NCJW’s work in this area of need and in our neighborhood, and I am so pleased to learn about it.

    5. Ellen Shell says:

      Thank you for sharing this. What a wonderful service for those who are in need. Very charitable. I will be sure to suggest this to the growing list of panhandlers.

    6. Sandra Walker says:

      How can I volunteer?

    7. Christine Martens says:

      So impressive! Kudos to NY Council of Jewish women!

    8. Jennifer says:

      I walked by this line yesterday morning and wondered what group was behind it; I guessed it was a food pantry as so many people were waiting with empty shopping bags and carts. The line stretched up 72nd Street and then up Broadway to 73rd. Glad to know what it is so I can donate! What a great resource.

    9. Lindsay says:

      Can I volunteer?

    10. Soothsayer says:

      This is what this country will look like in the not too distant future…Government food lines!!!

    11. Marcel says:

      This is a great organization but donations can only do so much. Progressive taxation of residential leases and condo fees, as well as incremental mortgage taxes and transfer taxes, and a Justice focused tax on personal property and investments would go a long way to really help these folks.

      • ARCHIE says:

        dont forget a tax every time you flush the terlet, but that tax would only go to the people in Flushing

    12. Michael UWS says:

      Location is
      241 W 72nd St, New York, NY 10023
      Open ⋅ Closes 5PM
      (212) 687-5030

      FREE FOOD Baby!