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Hope and Hunger at Food Pantry

Bronx -

Crates of produce, canned goods and groceries line Prospect Avenue, near East 163rd Street. A queue forms around the block as seniors, families with children and people with disabilities wait to load carts with food.

This is the scene every Wednesday and Saturday outside the Word of Life Christian Fellowship International’s food pantry.

“One of the things, really that was a turning point in my life, was when I saw this man that was digging into the garbage can looking for food. And I’m sorry to say that with even what we have done, there’s still many, that the only way they have to eat is to go to the garbage can and look for food,” said Pastor John Okon, executive director of the Word of Life Church.

“And to me that shouldn’t happen in America.”

The food pantry, started in 2003, teams with the Food Bank for New York City, City Harvest, Feed the Children and does its own food drives and fundraising. Food pantry operators estimate that more than 1,000 people come each week. Sometime, families are turned away because of a lack of food.

In the 2009 annual survey by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, 58 percent of food pantries and soup kitchen operators said that they had to either limit food or close early because there was not enough to ration out.

The Bronx, which contains one of the poorest congressional districts in the nation, has 215 food pantries and soup kitchens. The Census Bureau approximates that in 2008, 27.3 percent of families were living under the poverty level, compared to the city average of 13.7 percent.