The Intern Diaries: Setting the Community Table

By Kelsey Montgomery, WhyHunger Communications Intern

I couldn’t wait to arrive at the New York Common Pantry (NYCP) last week. I’ve volunteered countless times before for various causes, but this was my first time coming to help out at a food pantry. I was excited to mix two things together that I truly enjoy: cooking and giving back. However, this specific volunteer opportunity was even more enticing — my fellow WhyHunger intern Jillian and I were given the chance to sauté delicious and healthy vegetables with one of our Artists Against Hunger and Poverty members, Blurred Vision! Now that’s what I call a real VIP pass.

When we arrived, we were taken to meet with NYCP’s Executive Director, Stephen Grimaldi. He kindly welcomed us and the Blurred Vision crew to the pantry and gave us some insight surrounding the pantry’s beginnings and clients. A little over 30 years ago, the pantry was started as just a small community food pantry serving around 30 families from the East Harlem neighborhood. However, their aspirations have risen, and today the NYCP provides over 7,000 households with healthy, nutritious foods from their shelves – some families come all the way from Staten Island for their services!

Stephen also explained to us that the textbook definition of poverty in America is changing. During these challenging economic times, seemingly “middle class” families have started to face food insecurity and have come to the pantry seeking extra assistance with getting food on the table — making the services of NYCP and other WhyHunger partners even more critical.

After we were up to speed, it was off to the kitchen to begin meal prep.  We were given what seemed to be hundreds heads of broccoli and cauliflower, and were handed creative reigns to fix it any way we saw fit. We chopped (carefully) and laughed about how the veggies already seemed good enough to eat! After about an hour, the aroma of the sautéed vegetables filled the kitchen and we all knew that it was a job well done.

After we cleaned up the scattering of broccoli and cauliflower particles in the kitchen, we learned it was one of the NYCP chef’s birthday. True to form, Blurred Vision serenaded him with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” and invited him to their concert at Rockwood Music Hall the following day. 

Other than working on my culinary skills, this trip motivated me to further promote food justice. With such harsh social stigmas being placed around those who seek food assistance today, NYCP has eliminated any chance of their clients feeling like outliers.

It has been an honor to work with WhyHunger this summer and to experience these moments. This organization stands out with aiding communities to form their own grassroots solutions to the problems of hunger and poverty, while partnering with musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Yoko Ono and Blurred Vision to spread their mission through the Artists Against Hunger and Poverty program.

Healthy food should not be privilege, but a right for every human being walking the earth. Nobody is alone in this battle, as it is a battle the all of us are called to fight. As the quote hung on NYCP’s dining room wall states:

“When we exchange manly handshakes, compete in races, join together to save one of us who is in trouble, cry aloud for help in the hour of danger – only then do we learn that we are not alone on earth.”