Lines for RIDA food pantry
Each Friday, lines are long for free food at the RIDA organized pantry in the CBN Senior Center.

Will today be our last free food pantry for Roosevelt Island?

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Today, Wendy Hersh, Mary Coleman and their team welcome their neighbors for what may be the last free food pantry helping Roosevelt Island. The future is uncertain, and here’s a look at why.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

When the coronavirus slammed Roosevelt Island, hearty troops of volunteers spread out along Main Street, distributing food to homebound residents.

But then, the pandemic worsened, and direct deliveries ended as isolation battled the spread.

Someone had to step in, and not surprisingly, it was Wendy Hersh. Leader of the Disabled Association and always a reliable volunteer, she pulled together a free food pantry for Roosevelt Island. She had help, especially from the Carter Burden Network and tireless volunteers like Coleman.

But now, as the pandemic recedes, fresh challenges emerge because the need for food has not receded with it.

Is this the last free food pantry for Roosevelt Island?

As they have for the past year, lines of folks in search of food will fill the backyard at the CBN/RI Senior Center. Packages of food fill long tables, RIOC’s Public Safety Department will send officers over for security.

No matter the future of the free food pantry, it cannot go like this again.

Because the Senior Center was one the first activities shut down, the Carter Burden Network managers opened the space for Hersh and her volunteers. And not just that, CBN staff regularly pitched in.

The community-based effort paid off. Over a hundred families got help, each week. But with Mayor de Blasio ordering the vital senior centers reopened, across the city, the food pantry space will no longer be available.

The Department for the Aging, DFTA, pays the bills while Roosevelt Landings provides the space and maintains it. No spaces are unused.

Where will they go?

“I have to find a place for the pantry or we will need to close it down and I don’t want to do that,” Hersh tells The Daily.

She thought she had space secured in the Cultural Center but hasn’t been able to close an agreement with RIOC. Substantial space is necessary for storage, and then, there’s room needed for distribution.

And RIOC’s uncertain status complicates matters after the state agency refused negotiations for staying at 591 Main Street. They’ve been rent free for decades. Not only does this guarantee a new hole in Main Street, it initiates a space crunch facing Hersh and a host of other worthy nonprofits.

Although RIOC recently contracted for taking the old library space being vacated by Swift Emergency Medical, the transition has been bumpy.

Rooms in the Cultural Center normally set aside for rehearsals, classes and religious observance filled with storage, but notices did not go out to community groups. We heard complaints, in fact, from groups unable to reserve spaces into the fall. Or even get applications considered.

The traffic jam frustrates many, but a lack of communications worsens anxiety.

But none suffer more than the volunteers who may host our last free food pantry today.

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