A Park Slope-based food bank is seeing no dip in demand as the pandemic drags on, and is plotting ways to continue their effort to keep Brooklynites fed in a post-COVID world.
The Brooklyn Relief Kitchen, a volunteer-led organization that launched in June to help supply a local soup kitchen with hot meals, is still cooking up hundreds of meals a week, and demand has only continued to grow, according to do-gooders.
“We’ve seen it explode,” said Andy Wandzilak, a co-founder of the kitchen. “It’s not diminishing.”
The Relief Kitchen operates out of the Old First Reformed Church on Seventh Avenue and Carroll Street, where it prepares hot meals for a number of distribution sites across the borough, including the CHiPS soup kitchen in Gowanus, St. Mark’s Church in Flatbush, the Workers Justice Project in Bensonhurst, and the Camp Friendship food pantry in Park Slope.
Wandzilak, who co-owns the Park Slope institution Two-Boots Pizza with his wife Piper, ran a similar operation after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Limits on gatherings prevented them from starting out in the early days of the pandemic, but once the dust began to clear on the first wave, he and a growing team of volunteers got to work.
More than half of the food the Relief Kitchen works with is donated from other community organizations and restaurants, including the Council of People’s Organization, Brooklyn Packers, and Brooklyn Grange, the rooftop farm at Industry City.
On Wednesday, Wandzilak was preparing to drive to Gowanus seafood restaurant Littleneck, where rainy weather the night before had driven down sales and led to an influx of unsold lobsters.
“Sometimes the guys at CHiPS get lobster salad,” he said.
The kitchen’s efforts were primarily focused on making meals for CHiPS, who they currently provide over 600 meals a week for and act as their largest supplier, but organizers quickly decided to expand into other sites, as other food pantries began to shutter during the pandemic due to a lack of funding. St. Marks Church, which once drew about 100 people daily in need of a meal, now serves upwards of 400 families a day — as does a Workers Justice Center pop-up in Bensonhurst Park.
“Now the pressure is on the ones who remain open,” Wandzilak said.
With limited shutdowns in sections of southern Brooklyn deemed COVID-19 hotspots, Wandzilak says the kitchen has seen more and more out-of-work food service employees utilizing their services.
“In those neighborhoods, the need is only growing,” he said.
With no end to the current crisis in sight, Wandzilak and fellow volunteers are looking to become a certified nonprofit in order to continue their efforts indefinitely, and are looking for a new space to work out of come November, when they will no longer be able to work out of the Old First Reformed Church.
“A lot of this is just pointing out the poverty that’s already in the city,” said Wandzilak. “A lot of these pantries were needed before COVID hit.”