Throughout the last decade, the River Fund food pantry in Richmond Hill has grown to be an indispensable neighborhood staple for hundreds of hungry residents.
“When you look at the economy and everything that’s happening, you see the demand for help is growing,” said Durga “Swami” Das, the executive director for River Fund New York. “Especially for those of us who do have a little more to give, the more help these people can get, the better.”
Every Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m., Das and his crew of volunteers distribute food — including fresh produce, poultry and bread — clothes, vitamins and toiletries to as many as 600 households weekly, he said.
Depending on family size, residents are given three meals a day to last them for three days.
And when the line of homeless, jobless or famished families wraps around the block, volunteers stay until the last person is served.
“It’s staggering to see people wait on line for hours, no matter what the weather is – rain, sleet or snow,” Das said, adding that he has seen single moms, struggling seniors and even children waiting on line. “If someone is willing to do that, I would say that they need the help. It just makes me want to work harder. That’s all. We never turn anyone away.”
The River Fund is an Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) and member of the Food Bank for New York City. A non-profit organization, it is also a partner with Nourish America, numerous non-profit service groups, faith-based organizations and civic groups.
The Richmond Hill location — at 89-11 Lefferts Boulevard — also provides a “Mobile Street Outreach” program, in which every first and third Tuesday of the month, volunteers pack a van full of food and essentials and set out to Rufus King Park in Jamaica to hand them out.
Last Saturday, November 19, the group gave out turkeys and chickens for Thanksgiving.
“This time of year is a time of bounty, joy and giving. Those of us who can cook a turkey at home and can celebrate with a warm home and family are lucky. But we deal with a lot of families who can’t afford to give their kids toys for the holidays.”
Beyond food, around the holidays, the River Fund also collects toys for children and winter gear for the needy. Volunteers also prescreen clients and help them submit and process applications for food stamps throughout the year.
“We’re open seven days a week. We’re also on call. We try not to close at all,” Swami said. “We’ll do anything we can do to make it work.”
To help the River Fund or to donate toys or winter gear for their holiday campaign, visit http://www.riverfund-ny.org or call 718-441-1125. Donations are accepted year round.
Other places in Queens where you can give back
In continuing the spirit of giving, several local civic groups and police precincts will be collecting nonperishable foods, unwrapped toys and clothes to be donated to various organizations and local families.
Among the many precincts that are participating in coat and food drives are the 101st, 102nd, 105th and 106th. Donations can be dropped off at the respective precincts, and all collected canned goods will be given to City Harvest.
Other donations can be given to the Richmond Hill Block Association, Lindenwood Alliance, Ozone Park Kiwanis, Our Lady of Grace Ministry of Care Services food pantry in Howard Beach, The Belmont Child Care Association at Anna House and the Bread of Life food pantry in Long Island City.
The Bread of Life operates Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 2:30 p.m. inside the Center of Hope International Church at 12-11 40th Avenue at 12th Street. To make a donation or volunteer, call 718-784-4673 or visit cohi.us.
The Belmont Child Care Association at Anna House is asking for donations of new toys for children, gifts for teens and presents for parents for the 10th annual Anna House holiday event. It will be held on December 10 at the Turf and Field club at Belmont Park, located at 2150 Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont. Call 516-488-2103 for more information.
See this week’s paper for more places where you can donate.