Prospect Heights: 'If you come late, they'll let you stay.'

Photo by: Taylor Tepper
Far Rockaway native Connie Tomlinson is in charge of preparing the hundreds of meals that are served three times a week

Lunchtime, Tuesday, September 13, 2011 at Hope City Empowerment Center.

By: Taylor Tepper

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, one reporting class from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism sent its students out to talk to patrons and providers at a dozen food pantries and kitchens in Brooklyn. Here is one of the scenes they found:

Edwin Escobales, 46, worked in shipping and receiving at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, about a mile and a half from his home. Or at least he did until his boss told him there wasn't any work for him. That was when he started to go the Hope City Empowerment Center's soup kitchen.

Hundreds trickled into the soup kitchen at 650 Washington Ave. in Prospect Heights on a recent Tuesday afternoon in search of a warm meal and congenial conversation. The Hope City non-profit hosts its soup kitchen three times a week and runs a food pantry available twice a month.

"It's great that it's open here now, not just on Sundays," Escobales said while polishing off a plate full of chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes and salad. He is just one of many more mouths that Hope City has had to feed since the economic downturn.

"After 2008 we saw a 25 percent increase in the number of people coming to the food pantry and soup kitchen," said Bradley Backus, executive director of Hope City. "Last year we provided 10,917 meals, and groceries to feed 500 families."

Backus arrived, along with his staff and a stable of volunteers, to begin food preparation at 9 a.m. Far Rockaway native Connie Tomlinson, in charge of preparing the hundreds of meals that are served three times a week, arrived with Backus. She is not daunted by the task of cooking for so many people.

"It is a ministry to the church by helping those with less," she said. "When you're doing God's work, it's always fun."

The center, operating out of a building owned by Beulah Church of the Nazarane, gets funding from private donations, government contracts and five organizations, including the Food Bank of New York City, dedicated to alleviating hunger in disadvantaged communities.

Brooklyn-born Larry Walker, 54, said he has been coming to the soup kitchen since he lost his job with a moving and storage company two years ago.

"Ain't nobody have one for me," he said. "Whenever anyone gets hired, it's because you know somebody. You go down to the employment office and they got nothing there for you."

The doors opened and serving began at 12:30 p.m, as usual. Shortly after 1 p.m., as usual, Walker sat down to eat his lunch. With so much uncertainty in his day-to-day life, Walker has come to rely on the center's consistency.

"I know that I can come here without a shadow of a doubt," he said. "If you come late, they'll let you stay. They make sure you eat. It's a blessing for it to be a part of the community. I feel blessed. Fortunate."

Read the rest of our 'Lunchtime, Tuesday' reports:
At Brooklyn Pantries & Kitchens, New Need is Getting Old

Despite Economic Slowdown, Food Prices Rise In New York

Bushwick: 'There are kids out there who are hungry besides us.'

Bed-Stuy: 'I have seen less produce, less food … but more people.'

Crown Heights: 'If you come in hot, I know how to cool you down.'

Williamsburg: 'Normal families need food. This is ridiculous.'

Midwood: 'They can come into a store that's neat and feel good about it.'

Bushwick: 'I see a lot of older people come now.'

Crown Heights: 'For two weeks last month, we didn't have any food at all.'

Bed-Stuy: 'We know the importance in recognizing the dignity of the people.'

Sheepshead Bay: 'It's painful and it's embarrassing, you know?'

Williamsburg: 'Never say you won't drink the dirty water.'