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The Bronx Prepares for a Blizzard


The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for Bronx County beginning at 10 p.m. today  to 6 a.m. Thursday. Heavy wet snow and winds with gusts up to 40 mph are predicted. The Bronx Ink staff has contacted various community service providers to find out how they are preparing for the storm and if any of their services have been interrupted.

Funeral Homes and Cemeteries

Residents Miles Davis and J.C. Penney may not  mind a blanket of snow, and neither will the staff at historic Woodlawn Cemetery.

“It doesn’t affect us at all,”  historian Susan Olsen said. “Traditionally we bury no matter what.” During very bad storms, Woodlawn sometimes holds bodies if the family cannot make it out to the cemetery or crematorium, or if hearses can’t drive because of weather conditions.

One internment is planned for tomorrow, and so far, it’s still on. Staff will arrive “incredibly early” to start plowing to ensure family members can access the gravesite.

“It’s the safety of the living that’s our biggest issue,”  Olsen said.

Schools and Universities

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced that all city schools will be closed Wednesday in anticipation of the coming storm. Other city services, like  those for seniors citizens, will be available through Wednesday — although they may be limited.

Albert Einstein College of Medicine had not made a decision as of 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, however Lehman College, a CUNY school, will be open Wednesday with other CUNY campuses.

Fordham University is closing all campuses Wednesday, as well as canceling all day and evening classes. Sydney Steinhardt, assistant communications director, said  the university was dealing with the snow “with hats and gloves and boots.”

Senior Centers and Meal Providers

The two meal providers in the Bronx — Mid Bronx Senior Council and Rain Bailey Senior Center — delivered extra meals to seniors Tuesday in hopes of holding them over through Thursday and possibly Friday, according to Christopher Miller, spokesman for the Department of Aging,

Miller said seniors also receive emergency tacks, or meals, throughout the year to provide extra food during storms.

“Senior Centers will be open Wednesday to provide meals for seniors who regularly receive meals at those centers,” Miller said. “Providers are being asked to pack extra meals for the seniors to take home.”

Miller said he did not know if senior centers would be open Thursday, adding that  seniors may call 311 for information and  911 for help.

Homeless Services

Between 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. today, the Coalition for the Homeless will maintain a normal schedule  and deliver about 900 meals to the homeless in Manhattan and the South Bronx. Patrick Markee, the coalition’s  senior policy analyst, said standard storm preparation includes distribution of  hats, gloves and blankets, along with information on how to  get to a shelter.

Staffers at the Siena House,  a shelter for homeless, single mothers and children, have already assigned people to shovel paths from the doors and have double checked their salt supply so they’ll be able to provide safe entrances and exits. “We put up little notices telling them to be careful,” Sister Mary Doris said.

Doris said staff have also made sure they have plenty of food supplies for dinner and that the boiler is running correctly.

The shelter at 85 West 168th Street has three vacancies right now, but she said she wasn’t sure if the city would send people to fill those vacancies.  POTS, a soup kitchen at 2763 Webster Ave.,  will be open Wednesday, a spokesperson said.


The Jacobi Medical Center is reviewing its patients’ conditions to determine if any can be released tonight before the storm comes. But as a major trauma center, the hospital confirmed it would be open for business tomorrow no matter what.

“The most common snow-related injuries the emergency room sees result from car accidents, and from people hurting themselves shoveling snow or slipping on icy streets,” said Hannah Nelson, a hospital spokeswoman. “Most people cancel elective surgery.”

The medical center is also making preparations to make sure supplies are on hand in case deliveries are delayed tomorrow. As for staff members, the hospital is making sure everyone has a place to stay so that they will be available should emergencies arise.

A nurse at Montefiore Hospitals said every hospital has a specific emergency plan in case of extreme weather situations but that the hospital will follow its  work routine, as officials  do not expect to be severely affected by the snow.


Nasty weather is good business for cab companies. As more news about the storm rolled in Tuesday afternoon, those at Super Class Car Service paid attention, trying to figure out the drivers’ schedule for the day and whether the drivers should raise rates  because of the snow.

“Some drivers tend to charge more when the weather is bad,” said Genesis Reyes, the company’s secretary. But Super Class plans on making its drivers keep their normal rates this time.

Mega Radio Dispatcher, a Bronx-based car service bought a few bags of salt, but spokeswoman Cynthia Regalado said the drivers know how to handle the snow. “They’re all from here, either the Bronx or Manhattan,” she said. “They’re used to it, but they don’t like it. They don’t like it because they have to slow down. They can’t drive like they usually do.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, East Bronx, North Central Bronx, Northwest Bronx, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Bronx Church Hosts Haiti Relief Concert

On Saturday, Feb. 6, the Church of the Savior, Co-op city hosted a benefit concert for the disaster stricken island nation of Haiti. The concert featured singer Ron Anthony, a protégé of Luther Vandross, TransJazz and a dance routine by Lady Theresa Smith. The event organized by the church’s pastor Dr. Robert Smith raised over $1000 for the Haiti relief effort.

Posted in Bronx Tales, East Bronx0 Comments

Out of Work and Waiting for Another Chance

The Workforce 1 Career Center on East 149th St. in the Bronx is bustling with people seeking employment. Photo: Alec Johnson

The Workforce 1 Career Center on East 149th St. in the Bronx is bustling with people seeking employment. (Alec Johnson/ The Bronx Ink)

By Alec Johnson

There are lines everywhere. Lines to get in, lines to ask questions and lines for the bathroom. At an unemployment office in the Bronx, it seems like waiting is the only job that many who need work can get.

The Bronx is no stranger to joblessness. But as the poorest congressional district in the country,  Bronx County has been hit by the recession harder than much of the nation. Even residents who are used to getting a steady paycheck now find themselves competing for jobs that have disappeared. As national unemployment levels reached a 26-year high of 10.2 percent in October, Bronx unemployment surged further to reach 13.3 percent. That translates into more than 185,000 Bronx residents who are out of work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now, instead of earning a living, they wait in line. Their path to the Workforce I Career Center on 149th Street may have begun in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico or just up the street on the Grand Concourse. But now they are all looking for the same thing: hope.  Each face in the line tells a story. An immigrant from Ghana relies on his faith to keep him going.  A father struggles to find a way to support his family.  A former prisoner who admits he made mistakes searches for a way back into the world.

The newest faces in the line belong to former proud members of the working class, people who haven’t had to depend on social services in the past. Now, like so many others, they, too, can only wait. “A significant population of Bronx works in service and support jobs and when the main economic engine disappears that obviously ripples out,” said Jim Brown, an analyst for the state labor department.

Theresa Landau, the director of the Morrisania Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) federal nutrition program calls this group of recently unemployed, the “new poor.” The term, she said, characterizes those who held jobs that have evaporated because of the recession. A recent study by The New York Times found that unemployment has led to a large increase in reliance on food pantries and federal programs across the nation. The study found that 29 percent of Bronx residents are relying on food stamps.

These are the people who are actively trying to find jobs and don’t want to just sit back and collect government checks, but may soon be forced to. Last week, they streamed into the Work Force 1 office,  only to leave the same way they went in: unemployed.

“I’ve been coming here every day for seven weeks,” said Joe Cologne, a laid-off maintenance worker who is married, has three children between the ages of three and five and has lost two jobs in the past two years. Cologne’s daily trips over the past two months to the Workforce 1 office have left him discouraged.

“I want to make a good living,” he said. “At times I can’t sleep. I want to get a job.”

Leaning against the wall and squinting his eyes even though it was a cloudy day, Cologne spoke softly and sadly about why he waits in line every day.

“I’m trying to find something steady,” he said. “I’m sick of moving from job to job.”

Cologne had his last job for only six months and made $12.60 an hour.  Before that, he spent from January to March sending out resumes.

Happy that he saved some money for a rainy day and that his wife has managed to keep a low-paying custodial job, Cologne’s family hasn’t needed to count on public assistance. He is, however, worried that when he finds work, he will only get a minimum-wage job. Two years ago, the labor department set him up with a job that paid only $6.25 an hour.

“You can’t support a family and pay rent on that,” said Cologne, whose monthly rent is $1,300, not including utilities.

A minimum wage job, which now pays $7.25 an hour, is just a fraction of the $21 hourly wage guaranteed by his union, 32BJ SEIU, the largest property services workers union in the country.

A union job would be ideal for Cologne, but if one is not available, there are services such as food pantries and the WIC program that could help feed his kids.

According to Landau, the WIC program provides benefits to approximately 8,000 people in the Bronx and she hopes to increase that to 9,200 this year. Statewide, the number counting on WIC grew from 509,752 in August 2008 to 520,477 a year later.

“We’re hoping to open up new sites in communities that have not typically been considered low income,” she said, about targeting people like Cologne who would qualify for assistance because they have children under age five.

WIC  is a Department of Health program for people who  make up to 85 percent more than the poverty level. For example, a family of four with a combined income of $40,793 would qualify if they had infants. Unlike a food pantry, WIC gives participants a check they can use to buy nutritious food, such as fruit, vegetables, milk, whole grain bread and eggs for pregnant women, infants and young children.

But looking for help from the government is still an uncomfortable experience for many in the line. One man outside Workforce 1 used to make his living helping people. Now, he’s the one who needs help.

“This is my first experience” with unemployment, said the man, who immigrated to New York from Ghana 12 years ago. “I always had work—no problem.”

The man, who is a U.S. citizen his late 60s would not give his name, but said he is a former employee of the Human Resources Administration of New York City. He was laid off two years ago from the city organization, which provides temporary relief for individuals with social service and economic needs, and now is in search of work himself.

“It is difficult to get a job,” he said.

Since losing his job, he has lived on his savings, a part of which he sends to his wife and children in Ghana. And although the unemployment office hasn’t yet found him a job, he said he has taken advantage of computer classes offered to the jobless and is in the process of getting a master’s degree in theology of the Christian ministry at the Bible College at the New Covenant Christian Church in the Bronx.

“You have to engage yourself in doing something,” he said. “You must force yourself into something and stick to that.”

His theology studies have “helped him through,” and eventually he hopes to enter the ministry where he will teach Bible school and counsel parishioners.

“I want to help people,” he said.

Stressing the importance of searching for work, he said. “You can be proud if you are looking for a job, but not if you collect assistance without trying.”

Factors such as difficulty with English, poor education and even criminal records contribute to the Bronx’s higher unemployment rate, said Brown.

That’s the case with Joe Carter, who hasn’t had a job in four years and is on food stamps. He was released from a three-year prison sentence for narcotics possession six months ago and has been looking for work since then.

“I need a job,” said Carter, a father of a five-year-old daughter. “I’m working every angle.”

Sharply dressed in shirt and tie and a black coat, he clutched a paper he thought would be a key to a job. He earned the training certificate in prison after taking a six-month course at Bronx Community College in building maintenance.

He said he couldn’t find a job before he got in trouble, “but it’s definitely worse now” and  he doesn’t see the end in sight.

“I’m just holding on,” he said. “I hope the economy picks up and I can get a job in the near future.”

According to Brown, there just aren’t enough jobs to go around in the Bronx.

A significant portion of Bronx residents need to travel outside the borough for work and the farther people need to go from their home to find work,  the more difficulties they have. In the city, it’s not so hard, he said. But when the jobless try to go north to Westchester County, for example — where the unemployment level is nearly six percentage points lower — affordable transportation is a huge obstacle.

Ed Buggs commutes every day from the Bronx to Queens for a low-wage job.  A former bus driver, Buggs, 45, lost that job last year and recently started driving for Access-A-Ride,  a car service that drives the elderly and disabled to appointments.

Although Buggs is employed, he said the driving job isn’t enough to fulfill his dream of going to college. “I’ve been putting out resumes and got one call back.” Buggs has his second interview at a hospital next week for a housekeeping position. The hospital, he said, offers tuition reimbursement, which would fund his education.

Buggs battled the lines inside the drab Workforce 1 office to get help writing a thank-you note to the hospital where he interviewed last week. If he gets the second job and goes to college, Buggs hopes to find a steady job so he never needs to wait in that line again.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods1 Comment

For Two Old Friends, Wii Isn’t Child’s Play

Tyrone Owens plays Wii bowling at the Arturo Schomburg Senior Center on Franklin Ave. in Morrisania. Photo by Alec Johnson

James Haggins, 61, plays Wii bowling at the Arturo Schomburg Senior Center on Franklin Avenue in Morrisania as Carlos Isa looks on. (Alec Johnson/ The Bronx Ink)

By Alec Johnson

They grew up with stickball in the streets. As classmates at P.S. 63 and Morris High School, they played basketball. Now two old buddies in Morrisania are continuing their decades-long competition  on Monday afternoons throwing strikes and spares in the recreation room of the Arturo Schomburg Senior Center, where they join a group of senior citizens to play Nintendo Wii.

“We’re regulars, said Tyrone Owens, 63, about himself and his lifelong friend, James Haggins, 61. “We go back 60 years in the same neighborhood.”

Owens and Haggins join about a half dozen others who compete in a videogame more common on a teenager’s Christmas list. The Wii is actually owned by the Morrisania Public Library, and librarian Ilham Al-Basri

James Haggins and Tyrone Owens take a break from Wii Bowling at the Arturo Schomburg Senior Center where they play every Monday afternoon.

James Haggins and Tyrone Owens take a break from Wii Bowling at the Arturo Schomburg Senior Center where they play every Monday afternoon. (Alec Johnson/ The Bronx Ink)

brings it to the center each week as part of the library’s outreach program.

“The senior citizens like the Wii,” said  Al-Basri, who got the idea for using  Wii Sports last year at the New York Public Library health fair.

Dedicated players aren’t the only asset in Morrisania. “We’re lucky the center has this big TV,” said Al-Basri, pointing to a screen wider than a bowling lane. “Wii Sports are better played on a bigger screen.”

The room doesn’t look much like a bowling alley, with its hanging plants and blue-and-white checkered tablecloths. But there’s lots of room — it’s about 20 by 30 feet — and the players have the space they need to score high. On a recent Monday,  Owens was hot, throwing strike after strike and finishing with a winning score of 165. Haggins seems a little rusty; he didn’t break 100. (As in regular bowling, a score of 300 is a perfect game.)

Owens credited his history of athletic prowess. As a child, he rode a unicycle around Morrisania, and, when he was 12, he taught his brother Albert how to ride. Albert took the skill beyond the neighborhood to perform with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. Although it has been decades since anyone has seen Owens ride, he insists he could still do it if he wanted to.

Al-Basri teased Haggins about his loss. “You missed last Monday,” he said. “It shows when you miss a Monday. Athletes need to practice every day.”

Al-Basri said the seniors chose Wii bowling over Wii tennis because it is more realistic. “Bowling is more energizing and it is more true to the real world,” said Al-Basri, who, as a tennis player, agrees that Wii tennis isn’t up to snuff.

In the nine months since the seniors started playing Wii, they have gained nicknames from the senior center’s janitor, Eric Dance, who christened Owens  “Ty Boogey” and calls Haggins “Moose” to encourage them. “Those guys are keeping it strong,” he said.

“It’s show time, Ty Boogey,” Dance hollered as Owens set up for a frame. He leapt forward three steps, then swung his right arm and lifted his right leg as if he were hurling a 12-pound bowling ball at real pins in the local bowling ally. The digital ball rocketed down the lane and after all nine pins fell, the sound of a perfect strike resonated from the television. With a wide grin on his face, Owens returned to his seat and waited his next turn.

In the meantime, a determined Haggins stepped up, and bowled in an awkwardly quick shuffle. It was a little off the mark, but not enough so he couldn’t finish strong with a second shot. You would think Haggins and Owens were ninepin regulars, but neither has spent much time bowling for real.

“He’s back in the game with a spare,” hollered Dance, followed by a brief round of applause. That, however was the end of his rebound.

“This is good exercise and good motivation for the seniors,” said the Rev. Idus Nunn, director of the senior center. “I’m trying to get another day in the week or maybe a grant so we can get our own Wii.”

As  the top scorer of the day, Owens won a green fleece jacket donated to the senior center for the winner of the week’s tournament.

Looking down at his plate of mashed potatoes and a piece of chicken fried steak, Owens said, “This is a victory meal for me.”  It brought back memories. Growing up,  Owens and Haggins spent frequented each others’ houses. “My mama was the neighborhood cook,” said Haggins.

Despite the game’s outcome, Haggins and Owens both agreed that Wii bowling is much more fun than bingo. And although they see each other every day, they look forward to playing every week to keep their competition going for the rest of their lives.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Sports0 Comments

1528 Bryant Ave.

by Alec Johnson and Amanda Staab

From the outside, 1528 Bryant Ave. looks like a decent building. But once inside, it´s clear that years of neglect have taken a toll. Poor wiring, faulty plumbing,crumbling walls and filth caused by both old age and neglect plague the structure.

Residents say that their five-story, 21-unit apartment building has not been regularly maintained for years. The city´s housing department has on file 483 open violations against 1528 Bryant Ave., 162 of them registered since October 13, 2008. The most common complaint was the lack of utilities.

The building´s rapid decline can be traced from July, 2007, when it was purchased by OCG VII, an Ocelot entity, with Fannie Mae financing. Ocelot imploded in late 2008, however, and Fannie Mae foreclosed on the loan earlier this year. The City has now placed the building in its new Alternative Enforcement Program, under the supervision of Marc Landis, the court-appointed receiver.

Irma Aponte and her husband, Eddie, moved into the building 43 years ago and have seen it literally fall apart before their eyes over the past four decades.

“It was beautiful when we moved in,” said Irma Aponte who said the last few owners have walked away from the building after using it to make a little cash. “As soon as they got a few dollars in their pocket they left,” she said.

Aponte pointed to a leaky drainpipe in her apartment, which her husband patched up with a soda can and duct tape over one year ago. She said the electricity shorts out constantly, because of poor wiring all over the building.

“I can´t have air conditioning,” said Aponte who buys whole boxes of fuses when she sees them in stores because they are tough to get.

On Aug. 25, the city took over the building after foreclosing on Ocelot. The city´s Department of Preservation and Development then came in to make emergency repairs.

Since Fannie Mae foreclosed earlier this year, the city´s Department of Housing Preservation and Development has come in to make emergency repairs. A new roof and front door have been installed, securing the building from drug addicts, who Aponte claimed were wandering into the building to smoke crack in the stairwells. Ramos said the fuse boxes and wiring are scheduled to be replaced soon.

One abandoned apartment on the fourth floor has been turned into a pigeon coop, residents say, by someone who lives within the building.  Twenty pigeons roost on a baby crib. Bags of corn lay nearby in a red plastic container.

The birds and bird food attract vermin and roaches into the already decrepit building, Aponte said. “I would like to know what they´re going to do with the building,” she said, “because we have no landlord.”

Posted in Housing1 Comment

A North Country Perspective on the 23rd District Race

By Alec Johnson

Until I moved to Manhattan in August, I lived most of my life in an upstate city that most people have never heard of. But after yesterday’s election, people around the world know the name of Watertown, the heart of New York’s 23rd Congressional District. Depending on which report you read, the vote was either a referendum on President Barack Obama or the right-wing of the Republican Party or even the star power of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh, who sang the praises of the Conservative Party candidate, Douglas L. Hoffman.

But forget the pundits for a moment. If you want to understand what really happened in Watertown, take a look at the scalpers hawking Yankee tickets in the Bronx or the street vendors selling knockoff watches, sunglasses, and handbags nearly every day on the streets of New York City. Those are scams, as I quickly learned when I arrived. So was this election – right up until the moment when the votes were counted.

The Republican Party, with its sights set on luring the conservative right, tricked the district out of a qualified moderate candidate. The scam might have worked, but the voters were savvy. In the end, the seat went to a Democrat for the first time in a century.

The results might have surprised some people who associate anything north of the Bronx with right-wing gun nuts. But the 23rd is very different from what New Yorkers might imagine. It covers 13,000 square miles of rural farmland, the Adirondack Mountains, hundreds of small communities, and one large Army base. At first glance, it couldn’t be more different from my current beat, the three-square mile 16th District in the Bronx, the poorest district in the nation. But these two areas – 320 miles apart – actually have something very important in common. They both are home to many people who need government support to survive.

I grew up in a yellow house in Watertown, the district’s largest city with a population of 27,000. We had a big back yard and friendly elderly neighbors who fed their leftover meatloaf to my chocolate lab. But just a short drive away were the rolling hills of some of the most fertile dairy farms in the country; which depend on federal milk subsidies to stay in business.

The race for the 23rd began in June when the popular longtime congressman, John M. McHugh, was selected by Obama to become the Secretary of the Army. We in the North Country were happy for him. At the same time however, we realized that we had lost our influential voice in Congress and that the looming special election would be a challenge. Over the years, McHugh has been a champion for the North Country in securing much needed federal dollars that have kept the region alive.

Local Republican Party leaders selected Dierdre  Scozzafava, a state assemblywoman, to run on the Republican ticket. The Democrats chose Bill Owens, a lawyer from Plattsburg. Scozzafava, well-versed in local issues, had  a 150-year history of Republican control on her side. Then the street peddlers with the $20 Rolexes came to town.

National Republicans saw the pro-choice, pro-same-sex marriage Scozzafava as too moderate to support and cut her off from the party. They chose Doug Hoffman, an accountant with no political experience who lived outside the district to run on the Conservative Party line, financed by the Republican Party. Hoffman campaigned on conservative federal issues such as small government, anti-abortion and anti-gay rights and failed a Watertown Daily Times local issues quiz. Republicans attempted to fool voters by placing Hoffman in a shiny box wrapped in big-name conservatives, like Sarah Palin, thinking he would be an easy sell.

But the Republican Party tried tricking the wrong voters. Although the district was red for many years, red is not what makes people in the North Country tick. We’re mostly moderates with a core that is uncomfortable with extremism, on either side. We’re dairy farmers, mechanical tradesmen and generally middle of the road hard-working people.

These moderate values cause voters to vary their support between local and national elections. Locally, moderate Republicans hold office, because North Country residents vote for like-minded people, who happen to call themselves Republicans. Local races are focused on issues most important to the community.

But for years, the North Country also supported a very liberal Democratic senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and last year, Obama carried the district.

The ultra-conservative party saw the district as an opportunity for a litmus test to prove they could shove an unknown into the race and win an election. But Scozzafava foiled that plan by dropping out on Saturday and endorsing Owens, the Democrat, on Sunday; because he is moderate and can better represent the district.

In the final weeks, both parties pulled the stops and got every big name they could to stump for their candidates. The day before the election, Vice President Joe Biden attended a rally at Watertown’s largest community center for Owens. And the same day, Republicans brought in Big from the country music duo Big & Rich who sang Hoffman’s praises alongside Fred Thompson.

In the end, my fellow voters in the 23rd voted for the person they thought would best represent them. He may be a Democrat, but he’s really one of us.

Posted in Politics0 Comments

Morrisania Food Bank Is Running on Empty

Novelia Jackson, 64, Morrisania, leaves the Back to Jerusalem food pantry on Oct. 21 with bags of food. She has relied on the pantry for almost nine years. Photo by Alec Johnson

Novelia Jackson, 64, Morrisania, leaves the Back to Jerusalem food pantry on Oct. 21 with bags of food. She has relied on the pantry for almost nine years. Photo by Alec Johnson

A small sign written in purple marker hung next to the door of the Back to Jerusalem Pentecostal Church food pantry last week. It told people to come back another day. The Morrisania food pantry, which has given meat, canned vegetables and potatoes to the needy almost every Saturday morning for the past 10 years, was empty.

By Wednesday, the church had received a meager shipment of food from the Food Bank of New York City, bagged it up and was ready to hand it out. The food, however, was gone by the end of the day.

Each week, more than 1,000 food pantries and soup kitchens in New York City give food to the city’s hungry. According to the Food Bank for New York City, 1.3 million people rely on these pantries and soup kitchens because they cannot afford to provide food for their families.

A survey released in September by the Food Bank – which provides most of the food distributed in emergency food sites like the Back to Jerusalem Church –  reports that demand for food was up considerably in 2008. Ninety percent of the city’s food sites showed an increase in the number of people in line for food in last year.  Volunteers in Morrisania say the situation has become even worse this year.

The Bloomberg administration has tried to curb food shortages. In 2007, the city hired Benjamin Thomases, a 2003 graduate of the Social Enterprise Program at Columbia Business School, as the food policy coordinator. The position was part of anti-poverty programs begun by the city’s Center for Economic Opportunity.

A recent analysis by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, however, found that Bloomberg’s poverty effort assisted just three percent or 42,000 of the 1.5 million New Yorkers living in poverty.

Denise Acevedo-Strong, who orders food from the city food bank for the Morrisania church’s food pantry, speculates that a reduction in donations caused by the poor economy coupled with increased demand has led to food insecurity.

“A whole lot of donors that donated before to the Food Bank aren’t donating anymore,” she said.

Acevedo-Strong said she has little choice in the amount or type of food available for her to order. This week, she said, she might have a few cases of only six types of food she can order, such as beans, peanut butter or canned spaghetti. Meat, she said, is not on the list.

“It varies from week to week,” she said. She said that last year, there was twice the choice.

“We just got a shipment yesterday,” said Debora Bovain,  a volunteer at the Back to Jerusalem Church, while sorting potatoes Wednesday morning. The shipment, she said, included jars of peanut butter, cans of northern beans, string beans and cartons of milk, hardly the makings for a meal.

Bovain and other church volunteers scraped together enough food between the shipment and their meager reserves, which included the potatoes, to provide 140 bags of food to hungry patrons.

Until October, the pantry would hand out about 150 bags a week, which would include meat (usually frozen but occasionally canned),  a starch such as potatoes, vegetables and extras such as juice or peanut butter. But this month meat  would be a great luxury for the food pantry.

“There is no meat—period,” said Bovain’s mother, Pastor Lurena F. Sutton, 70. “We ran out two weeks ago.”

Ricardo Rosado, 45, who lost his construction job a year and a half ago, waited in line to pick up food for his five children, the youngest of which is 11 .

“Coupons are not enough,” said Rosado. He said that high food prices combined with his inability to get a job make his trip a necessity by the end of the month. “Welfare promises to get me a job,” he said. “But they don’t.”

Last week, about 140 families like Rosado’s received food from the Back to Jerusalem Pentecostal Church; this week if the food doesn’t come in they may have to find somewhere else.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Food, Money0 Comments

For Morrisania, the Public Library is a Refuge

by Alec Johnson

On East 169th Street, the Morrisania branch of the New York Public Library’s red brick façade shines in comparison to the surrounding sandy brown brick apartment buildings. Inside the 100-year-old building, book-lined walls surround clusters of tables frequently filled with children  and adults reading.

A teamwork-oriented staff at the library has bolstered circulation significantly this year by reaching beyond the bookshelves and engaging the community.

“We are a beacon in this community,” said branch librarian Colbert Nembhard, about the library, which has loaned 86,547 books since 2008, a circulation increase of about 20,000 for the year.

Because of the staff teamwork, Nembhard says he is not overly worried about losing one of his five, full-time professional staff at such a busy time because of budget cuts to the entire New York Public Library system.

“Everyone takes turns going out in the community, said Nembhard, who has been working in the city’s libraries for 30 years. The staff  juggles visits to shelters, schools, senior centers, and hospitals with regular in-house programming at the branch.

“On a weekly basis we do at least five programs,” Nembhard said. “Outreach gets more people to come. We are very busy.”

Ramon DaSilva has worked as an information assistant at the branch for four years. He helps people use computers and the library’s on-line card catalogue. While in Morrisania, DaSilva has led many outreach programs along with the team. He will be transferred to the High Bridge branch when it re-opens this winter after a two-year renovation.

The outreach programs — which include library card registration for sick children in hospitals and Nintendo Wii tournaments in senior centers, adult computer classes, story times and class visits in the library — may need to be cut slightly when DaSilva leaves.

“We might not be able to do as much,” Nembhard said, “but we will try our best to do what we can.” He is more concerned with what would happen if additional staff members were unable to work. “If we’re only left with four people and one calls in sick, that could be a problem,” said Nembhard.

The public libraries are experiencing $57 million in cuts across the board this year. However, Nembhard said, staffing is a priority for the library system, which is why DaSilva will be transferred. “By taking from one branch to the next, they aren’t getting laid off,” he said.

When not out on outreach, DaSilva mans the information booth on the ground floor of the library and assists patrons in signing up for computers and finding materials. The branch has 20 public computers. According to DaSilva , the computers are almost always in use and people sign up and wait in line for their turn. “They are almost never open,” he said.

Recently, Leon Wentt, 27, spent the afternoon at library because he needed to use a computer. Wentt said that he took advantage of the hour wait for a computer by reading. He appreciates the “good community environment” fostered by the library and said the greatest appeal is its “affordable convenience,” as he pointed to printers, scanners and the copy machine.

DaSilva believes that outreach programming is instrumental in bringing so many people into the library. Each year, library statistics are tabulated by fiscal year, July 1 to June 30. The programming and classes doubled from 401 in 2008 to 853 this year and 138,718 individuals walked through the library door.

Nembhard is working on innovative ideas to get around the staff restructuring. Although he is not exactly sure what those will be, he knows they will get around it.

“We are committed to the community and are striving for service excellence,” he said. “We may not be there yet, but that is what we’re striving for.”

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