Addressing food hardship: New pantry opens in Harlem

A crucial response to the escalating food hardship in communities, the Connie & Jessie Mae Pantry officially opened its doors today at St. Mary's Episcopal Church. Organized by a coalition of LGBTQ partners, this pantry aims to combat the persistent challenges faced by many in Harlem and across the city.
"It’s an absolute joy that we're meeting a service," said Pat Martin, founder of the Masculine Identifying Lesbian of Colors Collective.
Named in honor of Pat Martin's late grandmother, Jessie Mae, and her wife Paulette's mother, Connie, the pantry reflects their shared commitment to community.
"We are feeding people the basic nourishments of life, just what you need to wake up in the morning and know there's food in your belly," said Paulette Martin, president of Harlem Yes.
Despite efforts to alleviate food hardship, the Robin Hood Poverty Tracker reveals that 30% of New York City adults are still grappling with this issue, with 6% facing severe food hardship in 2021. Families with children are particularly affected, with 4 in 10 experiencing food hardship.
"Yeah, definitely it's a need because food is so expensive now," said Harlem resident Abigail Ortiz.
Ortiz says even with public assistance, she often struggles to provide essentials for her 9-month-old son, Legend.
“I get like $500 in food stamps, so by the end of the month I’m trying to piece together money to buy him a can of milk and stuff,” said Ortiz.
The Connie & Jessie Mae Pantry goes beyond offering hot meals. It provides warm clothing and fresh produce from the LoveWins Pantry, a self-described queer-centric group. While open to everyone,  organizers recognize the safe space the pantry provides for those in the LGBT community.
“We’re providing dignity and love to people who are sometimes not treated well in regular pantries,” said Rev. Dr. Mary Foulke, rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams praised the community's efforts in recognizing and addressing the critical issue of food insecurity.
"Folks from the community are often filling in the gaps where the government is failing. I’m hoping government recognizes how important these community groups are and sometimes we have to come out of the way and give them the resources they need to do what they do best which is connect with the community,” said Williams.
The pantry opens on the fourth Wednesday of every month.