More than 10,500 meals have been delivered from school cafeterias to neighborhood food pantries through a new UFT member-initiated School Meals 2 Pantries program on the Upper West Side.
Starting in September 2020, PS 333 art teacher Bernard Winter made arrangements with the Department of Education to pick up prepared and packaged community-allocated meals from MS 256, MS 258 and PS 333 — the three schools in the Joan of Arc complex on West 93rd Street — for delivery to pantries in the neighborhood that are stressed by an increase in food insecurity and are serving 32% more clients during the pandemic.
The all-volunteer pilot program delivered 5,214 breakfasts and 5,327 lunches between September and May 21, Winter said. “The ‘Grab and Go’ meals we provide help to meet the needs of those who are truly homeless; who have no place to store or prepare a meal,” he explained.
Ray Luetters, the kitchen manager at St. Michael’s Church, credited the program for helping the church reach more and more people in need. “We have been able to significantly expand our weekly offerings, ultimately reaching more than 1,000 people in our community,” he said. “That it only took a little effort to help fill the bellies of 1,000 of our neighbors is incredible and must be commended.”
Advent Lutheran Church Pastor Danielle Miller expressed gratitude that her church also has been able to help many more people each week with the added donations. “Last week alone, we were able to hand out 298 packaged meals because of Bernard and his team of volunteers,” the pastor said.
The program has been so successful in such a short time that it is experiencing growing pains. With PS 75 and PS 163 now added to the list of donating schools, more volunteers are needed to get the meals from the five schools to the pantries five days a week. The program will continue over the summer.
Winter, who retired in January, had help launching the pilot from former PS 333 colleagues Wendy Smith and Suzanne Blank, both of whom also recently retired.
“We are a 100% volunteer team working to address the issue of hunger in our city,” he said. To sign up to volunteer, go to Bernard@schoolmeals2pantries.org.