Beside them, nearly 100 cars formed a second line that stretched almost four blocks, waiting for what has rapidly become the area’s largest weekly food pantry to open.
Over the last month, the Ozone Park Residents Block Association (OZPRBA) has been working in collaboration with several local groups, including the Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol, Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services, Ozone Park Kiwanis Club, Ozone Park Howard Beach Woodhaven Lions Club and Living Word Christian Fellowship Church, to fight rising food insecurity in the community.
Each Saturday, a network of roughly 60 volunteers of all ages makes it happen, setting up stations of produce, dry goods and canned foods, all donated by individuals and other food pantries. The Ozone Park pantry also receives fresh food boxes from Grow NYC.
The operation allows residents to pick and choose which items they like as they travel through each station, making the experience more like a supermarket than a traditional food pantry.
“We have tried to bring dignity and class to the process rather than just hand out bags,” said OZPRBA president Sam Esposito. “We try to give people the respect to feel human.”
When the pandemic began, Esposito says the local organizations began pooling money to buy groceries and deliver the food to nearly 80 families in the area every week. As time went on and conditions worsened in the neighborhood, the operation became extremely costly in order to accommodate the growing need for food.
Esposito says the food drive at the Deshi Senior Center parking lot has seen exponential growth over the five weeks it has been servicing the area. What started out as a turnout of 120 families has now surpassed the 650 mark.
He says some people start lining up for the pantry at 6 a.m., even though it doesn't officially open for another five hours.
“There’s no doubt you’re in need if you’re willing to wait in line that long,” Esposito said.