Manhattan church sees 2,264% increase in demand for pantry meals amid COVID crisis

CHELSEA, Manhattan (WABC) -- A Manhattan church's food pantry distribution has seen a massive increase in demand since the start of the pandemic.

On almost any weekday morning, you will find a line of people stretching around the corner at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea, waiting for food.

"I worked all my life. I got laid off," said one man standing in line. "You don't expect to wake up one morning and be like I'm going to be homeless. It's something that you have to deal with."
Holy Apostles provides one of the city's largest food programs.

The church offers daily meals through its soup kitchen as well as a pantry program to provide families and individuals that need enough food for a week.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, demand for services has dramatically increased.

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"I think what it says is that people are afraid. They are afraid and nervous about where their next meal is coming from," Chief Operating Officer Michael Ottley said. "There was always an issue in New York. There were 1.2 million food insecure in New York and I would say when all is said and done it will be way over 2 million. It's sad and it's scary. It's not just happening in New York. It's happening all across the country."

Compared to last year, the Holy Apostles pantry distribution has seen a 2,264% increase in demand for weekly meals.

In July, the Soup Kitchen served approximately 122,000 meals representing a 307% increase in meals served compared to the same month last year.

"It is sad that people have to stand in line, in the heat and storms and rain, and wait for a place in line to get food," Ottley said. "I am starting to see it effecting every social strata. It's people who are unemployed or underemployed or furloughed. It's people running out of options in a city that is expensive to live."

Ottley worries the current need is only the beginning of food insecurity perpetuated by the ongoing pandemic, a problem he sees playing out in cities around the country.

"We are here to feed the people. We are here to make their lives a little bit easier. Since 1982, we have been here and we are a pillar of the Chelsea community, and we will continue to do that," Ottley said. "But the city needs to talk. We need to talk to each other. It needs a lot of people to come together and come up with a real fix to the issue. It's not a citywide problem, it's a nationwide problem."

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