Joan Williams makes rounds in Harlem. She is the executive director of the Beth Hark Christian Counseling Center in Harlem and goes out in the church van monthly to deliver food to addicts and the homebound.
It only took one interaction set her on a path toward changing the way food aid is distributed in New York City. “It broke my heart. I went out and saw someone who was addicted to crack — who didn’t feel comfortable coming into an institution. He tried to turn over the money for his next fix because he was so grateful [for the food]. No one else was serving him,” said Williams.
Now Beth Hark is embarking on a totally new endeavor. With a Youcaring campaign entitled “Give 30 Feed many,” the church hopes to raise $30,000 to finance their new mobile food delivery program. The campaign will help to finance the acquisition of their first dedicated vehicle (right now they borrow the church’s van) and build an app and website so that the homebound can requests the food they need. Plus, Williams says that the first vehicle will be temperature controlled for both hot meals and and cold perishables. She says with this vehicle, they could do deliveries of all sorts three days a week at minimum
“We are expecting this to be the first of a fleet of vehicles,” said Williams.
The ambitious nature of the undertaking speaks to the immense need in Harlem, but also in all five boroughs. Decreases in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in recent years have sent low income families looking elsewhere for help, hitting the food pantries hard. In fact, Williams says that for some, the pressure is too high.
“Pantries are closing all over the city. Someone came all the way from Staten Island to partake of our pantry. We cannot sit by and say that that’s not our problem.” said the former social worker.
And in terms of the food quality, Williams stresses it’s better than most suspect. According to the city, fifteen percent of Beth Hark’s purchases must be fresh fruits and vegetables, but Williams says they always exceed that mark. Plus, the prepared meals are generally low in sodium to accommodate the high levels of hypertension and diabetes in the community.
Many of Beth Hark’s largest funders for their Youcaring campaign have been other churches in the area who recognize the groundbreaking nature of this program. But on top of funding, and more than food, Williams needs help. As it stands, the organization has three part time staff and one full timer, plus 26 volunteers. They have corporate partnerships in the works and many services have been either funded with grants or donated. They work the the Food Bank of New York City and City Harvest to get the food they need at discountes. But what the organization really needs to pull off this ambitious effort is professional volunteers who can offer IT services, software design, fundraising and grant writing.
In the future, Williams hopes to work with heavy hitters in the world of delivery services like Delivery.com or Seamless to increase the program’s capactity, but first she has to get it off the ground.
Beth Hark Christian Counseling center serves hot meals on Wednesdays and Thursday from 12:00—2:00 p.m. and opens its food pantry on Tuesdays from 1:00—5:00 p.m. at 2-26 E 120th St.