Halana Richardson served four years in the military before taking a job as a school aide. Her husband was an employed construction worker, and they were both members of their children’s school P.T.A. They were raising their children in Harlem and thriving. Then tragedy struck. On his way home from work one day, Halana’s husband was robbed, shot and killed in a random act of violence. Halana went into a tailspin. To make matters worse, just months later Halana was laid off from her job due to budget cuts. She did every kind of job she could think of to get by: she became a maid, she peddled scarves that she made by hand, she braided hair. And she still just barely got by.
Last year, she ran into another parent from the P.T.A. who told her about Yorkville Common Pantry (Y.C.P.). There she was able to get food from the pantry program, and clothes and school supplies for her kids. Y.C.P. also told her she was eligible for food stamps and Medicaid and enrolled her. Halana remembers the first time she got home from Y.C.P. with a bag from the pantry. She and her children gathered in the kitchen around the bag as if they were opening a Christmas present. Now she had enough to feed herself and her family.
At first, her children didn’t know their food came from a pantry. She used to take the food Y.C.P. gave her and put it in Fairway bags, so when she came home the kids would think she’d just been out grocery shopping. She recalls, “I finally sat them down and told them, ‘Look, I have to go to a pantry so we can eat.’ I wanted them to know that if you’re in trouble and you need help, it’s okay to ask for it.” She still hasn’t found a steady job, but she continues on as a maid and a babysitter. In February 2010 she will begin attending the City College teacher’s assistant program. She hopes to get a job working with children again.
Yorkville Common Pantry (Y.C.P.), located in East Harlem, is in its 29th year of service. Y.C.P. operates one of the largest food pantries in New York City and caters to families experiencing a food emergency. Despite a challenging year, Y.C.P. managed to meet demand and not turn anyone away. In 2009, the number of meals Y.C.P. served increased by 19 percent, reaching more than 6,200 families and surpassing the two million meal mark for the first time. Y.C.P. also provides employment assistance, help enrolling for public benefits, and medical and psychiatric care. Five hundred clients enrolled for food stamps at Y.C.P. this past year.