8 OCTOBER 7, 2021 RIDGEWOOD TIMES WWW.QNS.COM
Fast-growing Ozone Park food pantry delivers
an average of 40,000 pounds of food per week
BY KAYLA WONG
For the last 17 months, one food pantry
in Ozone Park has worked through
rain and shine, and grown to become
one of the largest all-volunteer nonfunded
food pantries in New York City.
Every Saturday without fail, volunteers
have shown up for their
community, enduring through poor
weather conditions, working through
holidays and pulling from their own
resources just to serve the need in
And the community’s response to
the pantry has been remarkable. On
Saturday, Sept. 25, as the noon start
time approached, the line wrapped
around the block as hundreds of
people waited with their empty
shopping carts, some having been
there for hours.
The pantry was one of many operations
across Queens created in
response to the rampant COVID-19
pandemic-related food crisis.
What is now a large-scale operation
started from a simple delivery service
providing food for around 80 people.
As the need for food grew, organizations
such as Ozone Park Block
Association and Cityline Ozone Park
Civilian Patrol (COPCP) partnered to
address the problem.
When the pantry first started
in March, they served around 100
families, but in the wake of layoff s
and shutdowns, they began serving
thousands of families.
During the height of the pandemic,
the pantry served approximately
2,000 people. This month, they are
averaging around 1,100 people, and
passing out approximately 40,000
pounds of food per week.
For a while, there were no deliveries,
and volunteers had to go out every
day during the week to pick up food for
Saturday, according to COPCP’s social
media manager Daniel Hill.
“Now, we luckily get deliveries from
food banks, but in the very beginning,
we would drive to the other pantries
and take their scraps and whatever
they didn’t give out,” Hill said. “It was
difficult at first because we were
seeing other pantries in the area get
favored by the mayor’s offi ce, and they
weren’t even using all of the food.”
Before individuals reached the
front of the line, names and addresses
are recorded on a clipboard prior to
being handed a ticket to get in. The
ticket system is not only to regulate
the line, but it also provides the number
of people served for each Saturday.
Those who are disabled are allowed
to enter fi rst and are given assistance
with their food, and there is a separate
A volunteer-led non-funded food pantry in Ozone Park serves thousands of community members per week.
Photo by Kayla Wong
line for seniors.
After starting the food pantry,
Ozone Park Block Association President
Sam Esposito noticed that the
majority of volunteers were white or
Hispanic, but didn’t represent the rest
of the diverse groups of people they
“My goal was to bring people together,
so we started putting it up on
Facebook that we need volunteers,
and the next thing you know, we have
white, Black, Chinese, Guyanese, Bengali,
Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu,
gay and straight,” Esposito said. “It’s
a family we’ve made, and everybody
here has learned to get along with
each other — something we never did
in this neighborhood because it was
always us versus them.”
While the food pantry was created
in response to the pandemic, there was
always a need for it in the community,
but it was “simply ignored,” according
to Iqbal Ali, president of Cityline
Ozone Park Civilian Patrol. He felt that
certain ethnic communities were being
left out of the conversation, such
as the Bangladeshi community.
“The diversity was there, but I felt
like certain communities were always
underserved,” Ali said. “Now we
have seats in diff erent organizations,
we work with the NYPD, we work
with elected officials and we work
with all the boards. The Bangladeshis,
the Spanish, the Asians, you name it
— everybody is sitting there working
Diversity and unity in spite of
cultural and religious diff erences is
a big part of the pantry’s success, and
they want the food they provide to also
refl ect that.
The volunteers lay out the food
on the table and allow people to pick
and choose what they want to take.
Because there is such a diverse group
of people on the line, not everyone can
eat the same thing.
“We have to focus on what we have
and what each community can eat,”
said Mohammad Khan, the pantry’s
executive director. “The Muslim community
cannot have the meat because
it’s not halal, which we only sometimes
can get. We also serve a large Hindi
community as well, and they can’t have
beef or pork, so we have to cater to that.”
As a Muslim herself, Souad Bouhayat
is one of the volunteers who
takes care of the halal food selection.
Aft er standing in the line for food during
the pandemic, she was touched by
what the organizations were doing and
decided to come back as a volunteer.
“We start creating a relationship
with the people who come into the
pantry, and they start cooking for us,
sharing with us what they take from
the pantry, and I’m very touched to
know that we can make a diff erence in
a certain way by giving a bag of food,”
As you walk the line, you might hear
people speaking a dozen diff erent languages,
but there is always a translator
for those who need it.
“We have a total of 15 languages
the volunteers speak,” Kahn said.
“We have English, Bengali, Spanish,
French, Arabic, Guyanese, Italian,
Hindi, Chinese, Haitian and many
more. We make up a large language
community here, so we always have
someone to help.”
While the operation today has nine
food pantries that supply them, along
with GrowNYC and Food Bank, all
other expenses — such as gas, transportation,
supplies and compensation
— are covered by Esposito and Ali.
Even though some organizations
deliver to the pantry, volunteers still
have to pick up food throughout the
week from various outlets, and it’s no
diff erent on Saturday — volunteers
are constantly leaving throughout the
day to pick up food and restock their
supplies to ensure there is enough for
everyone. Organizers are spending
anywhere from $1,200 to $1,500 from
their own pockets on a weekly basis.
The manager of the pantry, Patricia
Raghunandan, said it is diffi cult for
organizers and volunteers to solely depend
on other pantries and their own
personal resources to get things done,
but volunteers willingly sacrifi ce their
time and resources for free.
“When you hear these personal stories
of the people on the line, there’s
nothing that would stop you from getting
up in the morning, coming here
and doing it day aft er day,” Raghunandan
said. “We get it done because those
people need it.”
The Ozone Park food pantry opens
at noon every Saturday at Digby Place
between Rockaway Boulevard and
97th Avenue (83-10 Rockaway Blvd.).
No RSVP is necessary to stand in
line or to volunteer.