Coronavirus News: Harlem food bank funded by monies seized from criminals

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Food lines are popping up across the New York area during the coronavirus pandemic, helping the poorest neighborhoods. But in Manhattan, one food line is funded by monies seized from the very criminals who used to operate there.

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office pays to feed Harlem residents through its Robin Hood-like Criminal Justice Investment Initiative.

The Living Redemption Youth Opportunity Hub in West Harlem, which was created and funded by the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative, began serving as a food bank site in partnership with the city government and has rapidly become a lifeline for thousands of New Yorkers in need of food and masks during the COVID-19 crisis.

"We are serving basically per week close to 600 families," said the Reverend Maurince Winley, who runs the Hub. "The lines go all the way around the corner."

The Hub's transition into a food bank is funded by vast sums of money forfeited by big banks that are now feeding New Yorkers, many of whom recently lost their jobs, during their hour of need.

"These are real hard working families in need of resources," he said. "You can feel the desperation as well as the hope."

Additionally, the same at-risk youth who are now regularly receiving hot meals through the program are actively involved, along with staff, in setup and distribution of these necessities to their neighbors on Wednesday and Friday afternoons.

"Many young people that are now serving were once participants but now are out there," Rev. Winley said. "They have a deep sense of commitment to their community. A deep sense of vision and passion."

In 2017, the DA's Office awarded a grant of up to $10.3 million to the Living Redemption Youth Opportunity Hub to provide integrated, comprehensive support for teens and young adults in Central and West Harlem who have been involved in the justice system or are at risk of becoming involved.

"We have been able to take those monies from the proceeds of criminal misconduct, invest them in Manhattan communities at the grass level," Vance said. "Many hundreds of youths have participated in the youth hub since it opened several years ago. These are youth that I think Reverend Winley would say, they really need the help."

Since this Hub's launch, more than 450 people between the ages of 16 and 24 have benefited from the program's offerings, including mentoring and four hot meals per week.

Once they were part of the problem," Rev. Winley said. "Now they are part of the solution."

Living Redemption opened its food bank on West 124th Street last month at a time when numerous other food banks in Harlem, Washington Heights, and the Bronx were shuttering due to coronavirus-related illness.

Over the past four weeks, the Living Redemption food bank has provided food to 2,381 adults, 2,146 children, 1,381 families, and 698 seniors.

The need is so great that Living Redemption has already received a two-month extension from the city to distribute food through June and hopes to continue through the summer.

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