St. John’s Bread & Life Serves Up Dignity at Pantry This Holiday

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Family, Inspiration, Media, Queens, NY

By Jessica Easthope

Jillian Battey dishes out bags filled with hot food and essentials but she knows what it’s like to stand on the opposite side of this window.

Battey’s a volunteer at St. John’s Bread & Life, but she’s also a guest.

“I don’t get so much in food stamps so this saves me a lot of money,” Battey said.

This year Battey and the tens of thousands of others who wait in line to shop at Bread and Life’s digital pantry are putting something new in their cart: a $25 gift card to Food Bazaar, a new grocery store located a few blocks away. 

It doesn’t just buy a Thanksgiving turkey or ham; for Battey it buys some freedom.

“It puts a lot of dignity back. A lot of people can’t afford turkeys, so it helps with their turkey, with their ham and pies,” Battey said. “There are certain things that we don’t give out that $25 helps people go to the store and complete their Thanksgiving dinner.”

The gift cards are the product of a partnership with Food Bazaar and The New York Mets’ Charity Foundation.

Sister Caroline Tweedy, Bread and Life’s executive director, said a $25,000 gift from the Mets has transformed Thanksgiving at the pantry.

“I would say we are reinventing ourselves and one of the things we came up with was giving people an opportunity to select and customize their own holiday basket,” Sister Caroline said. “We thought that would be a great idea, giving people choice. That gives people a sense of dignity and choice and it values their culture and their sensitivities to food, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the Mets and without Food Bazaar.”

Dawn Brabham has been a guest for years, but with her gift card in hand, Thanksgiving at Bread & Life feels a lot different this time around.

“It gives it a little more independence,” Brabham said. “Over the years Bread & Life has been a savior for me, and I’m truly, truly blessed and thankful for Bread & Life.”

Battey thinks back to the time she and her daughter spent living in homeless shelters and how Bread & Life helped her get to where she is now.

“I understand the aspect of people needing help,” Battey said. “I went through five years, four or five different shelters, finally got my own place so I said let me volunteer because I love helping people, I love talking, everybody knows me, even the people outside. They say, ‘You’re in here now?!’ It’s a help, a lot.”

Battey says the love and support she found at Bread & Life is what she’s really thankful for, the food is just gravy.