St. Mel’s Catholic Academy Helps Flushing Recover From Pandemic Food Insecurity During Lent

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Catholic Education, COVID, COVID Relief Bill, covid testing, COVID VACCINE, Crux, Faith, Food, Food Bank, food insecurity, Inspiration, Media, Queens, NY

By Jessica Easthope

The lines have been endless with people wrapped around blocks, waiting for hours for the essentials. But now, the food pantries that countless New Yorkers have relied on during the pandemic are struggling, too.

In Flushing, one of New York’s most diverse communities — St. Kevin’s food pantry — has had its operation turned upside down. But students at St. Mel’s Catholic Academy are picking up the slack.

“Because donations were really slow they were having to actually go out and use their funds to purchase items for these families, so I think what we’re doing is going to be a big help to them to help them fulfill their mission. And we know the donations the kids are bringing in are going to go to people who really need them,” Amy Barron, principal of St. Mel’s, told Currents News.

Food is piled high in an empty classroom waiting to be delivered to St. Kevin’s, a Lenten service project with a deeper meaning. Tamar Chicavich, a mother of two students at the school, says the idea for the food drive came to her while she was praying.

“It’s practical faith. Living it out here in the community, and they can do that,” Tamar explained.

A year into the pandemic, St. Kevin’s has been struggling to feed the 50 families it regularly provides for. Unemployment in Queens is nearly 13 percent, and the immigrant-rich communities rocked by the pandemic are now feeling the powerful aftershock of food insecurity. It’s a harsh reality that’s become the driving force behind St. Mel’s makeshift supermarket.

“It’s about doing stuff for people and not only giving stuff up, but you can do stuff positive for people and not just for sacrificing something you like,” third graders Destiny Danaj and Franco Santangelo explained. “We give up something like chocolate, or soda or video games, but He gave up His whole life for us.”

In a community when so many undocumented immigrants are not eligible for government assistance, relying on church-run pantries like St. Kevin’s is the only option, and motivation that has students looking past the Lenten season.

“We should do this stuff mostly very often so people in need have stuff, and especially not just in this time. You can do it whenever, always,” Destiny and Franco said.

So far the school has collected more than 2,000 nonperishable food items, and is aiming to double its donations before the food is delivered to St. Kevin’s on March 30.