NYC’s Food Crisis in Pictures

Photos and text by Scott Heins

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the country’s caregivers, charities, and community advocates to the breaking point. Employment, housing, criminal justice, healthcare: every struggle in American life has gotten harder. Encouragingly, new groups have mobilized—in New York City and around the country. Mutual aid groups have filled in the void ignored by the state delivering food to neighbors free of charge, while anti-eviction teams have linked arms in front of courtrooms and row houses, protecting struggling tenants. There are small victories, but the larger crisis continues. Five months since the coronavirus outbreak hit New York City, many mutual aid networks are struggling to retain committed volunteers and willing donors. There is only so much energy with which to organize, and so much money to spare. Yet they carry on, supporting as many as they can, often in the most basic way: free nutritious food and household items. During the final weeks of summer, I visited groups that have ramped up their capacity to fight against food insecurity. Staff members and volunteers showed an inspiring depth of commitment, creativity, and good humor as they did all they could, hour after hour, to help as many families as possible. While this cannot continue forever and needs a coordinated state response, on a day-to-day level these heroic efforts pick up some of the slack highlighting a foundation of resolve, perseverance, and care for each other on which a better world can be forged.

A Queens family carries food given away by Make the Road NY. Each week, Make the Road feeds hundreds of local residents, many of whom are unemployed, undocumented, or directly impacted by a family member contracting the coronavirus.
Director of Operations Kelvin Taitt, center, directs staff members at the Brooklyn Packers wholesale distribution site. Numerous mutual aid and charity groups source their food from Brooklyn Packers, feeding hundreds each week.
Volunteers with the mutual aid group Bed Stuy Strong load their car with groceries at the Brooklyn Packers wholesale distribution site. Numerous mutual aid and charity groups source their food from Brooklyn Packers, feeding hundreds each week.
Director of Operations Kelvin Taitt, center, loads food for an outgoing delivery at the Brooklyn Packers wholesale distribution site. Numerous mutual aid and charity groups source their food from Brooklyn Packers, feeding hundreds each week.
Produce, dry goods, and perishibles all wait to be delivered at the Brooklyn Packers wholesale distribution site. Numerous mutual aid and charity groups source their food from Brooklyn Packers, feeding hundreds each week.
A staff member labels boxes with delivery information at the Brooklyn Packers wholesale distribution site. Numerous mutual aid and charity groups source their food from Brooklyn Packers, feeding hundreds each week.
Staff at Brooklyn Packers pack dry goods and produce into individual delivery bags.
A volunteer stands with packed bags of food at Make the Road NY’s office in Corona, Queens. Each week, Make the Road feeds hundreds of local residents, many of whom are unemployed, undocumented, or directly impacted by a family member contracting the Coronavirus.
Volunteers collect information from local residents in need outside Make the Road NY’s office in Corona, Queens. Each week, Make the Road feeds hundreds of local residents, many of whom are unemployed, undocumented, or directly impacted by a family member contracting the Coronavirus.
Volunteers give away food to local residents in need outside Make the Road NY’s office in Corona, Queens. Each week, Make the Road feeds hundreds of local residents, many of whom are unemployed, undocumented, or directly impacted by a family member contracting the Coronavirus.
A staff member collects information from local residents in need outside Make the Road NY’s office in Corona, Queens. Each week, Make the Road feeds hundreds of local residents, many of whom are unemployed, undocumented, or directly impacted by a family member contracting the Coronavirus.
Steph Wiley, Co-Founder of Brooklyn Packers, checks a list of groceries needed by the mutual aid group Bed Stuy Strong. Numerous mutual aid and charity groups source their food from Brooklyn Packers, feeding hundreds each week.
Director of Operations Kelvin Taitt, right, holds a staff meeting at the Brooklyn Packers wholesale distribution site. Numerous mutual aid and charity groups source their food from Brooklyn Packers, feeding hundreds each week.
A Corona, Queens woman receives free food delivered by a cyclist volunteer from Make the Road NY. Each week, Make the Road feeds hundreds of local residents, many of whom are unemployed, undocumented, or directly impacted by a family member contracting the Coronavirus.
A cyclist volunteer from Make the Road NY walks through an apartment courtyard in Corona, Queens while bringing food to a family in need. Each week, Make the Road feeds hundreds of local residents, many of whom are unemployed, undocumented, or directly impacted by a family member contracting the Coronavirus.
A volunteer from Make the Road NY brings food to a family in need in Corona, Queens. Each week, Make the Road feeds hundreds of local residents, many of whom are unemployed, undocumented, or directly impacted by a family member contracting the Coronavirus.
A cyclist volunteer from Make the Road NY brings food to a family in need in Corona, Queens. Each week, Make the Road feeds hundreds of local residents, many of whom are unemployed, undocumented, or directly impacted by a family member contracting the Coronavirus.
People line up for free food distribution at the Bowery Mission, a long-standing homeless outreach site on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in April, near the time of the Coronavirus peak in New York City.
Even after infection rates fell and some businesses began reopening during summer, lines at mobile food pantries often stretched several blocks as New Yorkers suffer continuing food insecurity.
People in Jackson Heights, Queens line up to receive food and cleaning products offered by Sistas Van, a mobile pantry that began working with a mutual aid group to combat food security during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scott Heins is a freelance photographer based in New York City. You can see more of his work here.

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