Sept. 21, 2020 By Allie Griffin
A LGBTQ-run food pantry is raising funds to continue feeding the 500 to 600 Queens residents who line the block in Jackson Heights each week.
Love Wins Food Pantry aims to raise $10,000 to feed hundreds of neighborhoods who have come to rely on the pantry since it popped up more than three months ago.
The pantry — which originally started as a one-time pop-up for pride month in June — has grown to a weekly distribution event thanks to a partnership with World Central Kitchen, an organization that provides emergency food relief during disasters.
Pantry organizers launched the fundraiser, so that they can continue to feed Jackson Heights residents if World Central Kitchen must pull out to bring its resources to another disaster-impacted area.
They hope to continue their operations through at least the end of October with the funds, but their ultimate goal is to make the pantry self-sustainable.
“We think that $10,000 will help us feed the same volume for at least a month, but we obviously want to build for long-term,” said one of the pantry organizers Daniel Puerto.
On Friday mornings, the line for the pantry — which is held in front of Friends Tavern, a gay bar at 78-11 Roosevelt— typically wraps around several blocks as people begin lining up to receive food two hours before the 11:30 a.m. start time.
The winding line is illustrative of an existing issue within the neighborhood — food insecurity — that has been exasperated by the pandemic.
COVID-19 hit the largely immigrant communities of Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst particularly hard. The communities became known as the “epicenter of the epicenter” at the height of the pandemic when they saw the highest number of cases among New York City neighborhoods.
Puerto, a community organizer and Jackson Heights-based LGBTQ acitivist, said he and the other organizers already knew things like hunger and poverty were issues in the community — but the coronavirus hit the neighborhoods with a vengeance.
“The need is large,” Puerto said. “We have a consistent 500 people that come with their carts ready to receive produce.”
The pantry regulars include elderly residents, cancer survivors, disabled individuals in wheelchairs, trans people of color and young children who bring back the produce to their families every Friday.
“We have a line of about 75 people who are 62 years of age or older who come in their wheelchairs to access food,” he said.
Puerto said seeing children as young as 12 years old line up early outside the pantry and become the breadwinners of their families is particularly heartbreaking.
“These are people who week after week rely on our food distribution no matter the scale of things that we’re able to supply them to be able to have food on their tables to feed themselves and their families.”
Some of the pantry recipients have become volunteers themselves. The group of volunteers — many of whom are part of the LGBTQ community — range from 13 years old to 60 years and older, Puerto said.
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🔊 Sound on! Jackson Heights in Queens was deeply impacted by COVID-19. Currently, many immigrants remain unemployed and hundreds line up every Friday to receive food from #lovewinsfoodpantry, a local volunteer-led initative. Love Wins is not government-sponsored, it’s by the community for the community. #lovewinsfoodpantry #foodequality #food #lgbtq🌈 #love #wins #humanrights 🎥 by @joanaphoto
The volunteers are often people from stigmatized groups. They include everyone from transgender people to Sikh leaders to people of color to a drag queen and Love Wins has provided them all a safe space to help others.
“In terms of the volunteers, providing a safe space of ownership, dignity, love and support for one another has been transformative,” Puerto said.
He said the pantry has been able to build support from a community that often has stigma towards LGBTQ people.
“What we’ve been able to accomplish through Love Wins is something incredibly unique.”
Puerto said the food pantry hopes to provide food to families going forward into the winter months, as they have hundreds of people now counting on them.
“Food insecurity is not something that is gonna end when Mayor de Blasio decides to flip his wand and say that restaurants and schools are opening and therefore things are going back to normal,” he said. “Because for a lot of families — thousands of families that is just not case.”