Filling the Hunger Gap

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Volunteer Maria Fabian weighs food to be given out at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger at the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew on West 86th Street.

West Side Campaign Against Hunger passes goal in Thousand Turkey Challenge

West Side Campaign Against Hunger stocked a special item in their pantry this past week: a whole lot of turkeys. The nonprofit, located in the basement of the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew at 262 W. 86th St., co-sponsored the second annual Thousand Turkey Challenge, a turkey drive organized by local religious groups to provide holiday meals for at-need families.

“You’re seeing us at our most chaotic. We’re not usually this messy,” promised Stewart Desmond, incoming WSCAH executive director, as he gave a quick tour of the bustling basement pantry on Monday during the busiest meal time. Patrons pushed small carts and chatted mostly in Spanish while volunteers checked out finished shoppers and ushered in others seated in the large basement waiting area. Unlike a soup kitchen, Desmond explained, patrons at WSCAH’s pantry choose their meals from well-stocked shelves based on a point system that allows for a certain amount of grains, protein, vegetables and so forth. Then they cook the food at their own apartments.

“We live in a progressive community that wants to help people in the most progressive way possible,” Desmond said. “A pantry like this that gives people some dignity represents the values of the Upper West Side. We’re something the Upper West Side can be proud of.”

At the basement’s far end, a table with members of the Society of the Advancement of Judaism and West End Synagogue, the drive’s two founders, collected turkeys for the pantry from Upper West Side donors. Last year, the members said, the organizations collected several hundred turkeys and raised over $10,000 from cash donations, which allowed them to provide holiday meals for over 1,700 families. This year, Desmond estimated that they would raise over 1,000 turkeys from Nov. 15 to 21, the drive’s dates. He noted that they also provide hams and cooked chickens to smaller families.

Chris Gill, a volunteer at a check-out counter who has been involved with WSCAH for about 10 years, said that the pantry was providing an essential service to the city’s community in hard economic times. “Famine is serious,” he asserted. “If it wasn’t for pantries, they’d have to open more jails. There’d be a lot more crime. The rate of unemployment, the lack of food stamps—that would cause havoc. There would be a lot more policemen standing in front of doors.”

Many shoppers agreed that the pantry was providing a good service. Bronx resident and pantry regular Roger Beddoe complained that the 1.5-hour line this time of year was “crazy, ridiculous,” but perked up at the prospect of turkey. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s worth the wait.”

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