The reports are staggering. Two million people in New York City lack reliable access to nutritious food. Our New Yorker of the Week has been on the frontlines battling food insecurity before anyone heard the word coronavirus.
The line stretches around the corner outside the Harlem Neighborhood Opportunity Network Nutrition Kitchen. It’s been an all too familiar sight. Ensuring thousands of needy New Yorkers in the neighborhood are able to put meals on the dinner table each week is Shatia Burks.
"Food is not just for nourishment but it also feeds the body and the soul," she said.
The City Department of Probation's NeON Kitchen initiative serves 15,000 people throughout the five boroughs each week. Burks, an assistant probation officer, has been running this one in Harlem for almost four years. In the last several months, she says she sees six times more people each week than she did before the pandemic. She also helps out at this site in Jamaica, Queens.
"Think about it," Burks said. "If I'm hungry, how much work can I really get done? If I'm hungry, how can I help my family?"
People are getting chicken, eggs, pumpkins and more today. Burks packs the bags, hands them out and directs deliveries.
"They may say I'm the assistant commissioner but when I'm here, I'm working for Shatia," said Rodney Levy, an assistant commissioner at the New York City Department of Probation.
"I keep track of everything little by little. I try to compartmentalize everything that's going on," Burks said as she directed deliveries.
Burks understands how stressful it can be to provide for a family. She's a single mom with an 8-year-old son.
"The way I've been given, I give back," she said.
Ashley Caldas and her family live in the area. They started coming to the NeON kitchen during the pandemic.
"It feels very, like, safe and it feels like someone cares for us," Caldas said.
"It is heartwarming and fulfilling," Burks said.
For keeping food in New Yorkers' stomachs before and during the pandemic, Shatia Burks is our New Yorker of the Week.