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UFT initiative helps stop hunger

We Feed NYC supports food pantries in high-need communities
New York Teacher
UFT Staff Director Anthony Harmon helps distribute lunches
Jonathon Frickies

UFT Staff Director Anthony Harmon (center) helps distribute lunches made by LaBagel Restaurant at Beulah Church of God in Christ Jesus in Brooklyn alongside church administrator Carolyn Jackson (left) and event coordinator Virginia Lloyd (right).

The UFT has stepped up to help some of the 1.2 million New Yorkers who are confronting hunger after their lives were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UFT raised more than $295,000 from its Feb. 13 We Feed NYC fundraiser. The money will directly support local community-based food pantries in high-need neighborhoods across the city.

The four-hour virtual fundraiser, hosted by 107.5 FM's "Dr." Bob Lee, showcased a lineup of entertainment, music, student performances, expert tutorials and more.

A volunteer offers a beverage

A volunteer offers a beverage to go along with the free hot meal paid for by the UFT.

In the first phase of the We Feed NYC campaign, the UFT worked in partnership with local restaurants to provide 1,000 hot meals a week to communities in need in each borough. By mid-January, the union had delivered a total of 20,000 hot meals to families in need.

The campaign helped local restaurants that were hurting because of the restrictions on indoor dining. The union negotiated reasonably priced meals with the restaurants, and the hot meals were then delivered to local food pantries, soup kitchens, community organizations and churches in each borough.

In the Bronx, Nick Cruz, the UFT director of community and parent engagement, worked with parent volunteers from Community Education Councils in Districts 7, 9 and 10 to identify local restaurants and distribute meals.

Addressing a unique challenge, they found a halal restaurant to supply special meals for the Bengali Muslim community in the Bronx. Parent volunteer Hazara Hussain helped distribute 250 boxes of biryani chicken, rice and vegetables the first week and 250 boxes of chicken curry the next to the North Bronx Islamic Center, where she is a member.

"For this to happen at our center was a great achievement," Hussain said. "It was the first time for this kind of very helpful event. Because of the need, the food went very fast. We had to turn people away."

Anthony Harmon, the assistant to the UFT president and the We Feed NYC coordinator, said the restaurant partnership had come together quickly.

"It was nothing short of amazing that something that started out as an idea from our president on a Sunday afternoon was fully underway by the following week, helping to provide 5,000 meals a week citywide," he said.

Of the 1,000 weekly hot meals earmarked for Manhattan, 500 were delivered to central Harlem food banks, 250 to the Bowery Mission and 250 to Fraternite Notre Dame's food pantry in East Harlem.

UFT Members distribute meals
Erica Berger

Volunteer Wayne Wettley (right) helps distribute meals from Sweet Mama’s Soul Food Restaurant at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Manhattan on Dec. 19.

"One parent in line with her 6-year-old daughter told me, 'I never imagined myself on a food line,''' said Robert Robinson, the UFT's Manhattan parent and community liaison. Another, he said, timidly asked for a second meal box "for later."

Gratitude for the union's initiative poured in. In Brooklyn, Barbara Joseph, the community services director of the Brooklyn Faith Seventh Day Adventist Church, spoke of the "beautiful dinners that were so very welcome." And on Staten Island, St. Joseph's Medical Center Vice President Marianne Di Tommaso expressed her "heartfelt appreciation" for the donation of 200 meals weekly to the center's residential programs.

Mt. Olivet Gospel Church in Corona, Queens, received 500 meals from the UFT for four weeks in a row.

"What a blessing," said Marjorie Harris, the church's associate minister and a teacher at East River Academy on Rikers Island. "Union proud and union strong!"