By Alice Kenny
Yesterday was the moment Martinez Benitez had been praying for. For nearly two decades, this 94-year-old woman has volunteered at Catholic Charities’ St. Cecelia’s food pantry in Central Harlem. She has watched as lines crowded with hungry children, mothers, and grandfathers with walkers stretched longer each year. And yesterday, Goya Foods, the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the United States, pulled up a truck filled with 5,000 pounds of food donations.
Catholic Charities and Goya staff along with volunteers such as tiny Ms. Benitez rolled up their sleeves on this 80-degree day and unloaded boxes packed with rice, beans and vegetables. The donations were split between the food pantries at St. Cecelia’s and at Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service, an affiliate of Catholic Charities.
Goya’s donation marked the kickoff for this weekend’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade and food drive. The massive gift, enough to feed 4,000 families, will benefit Catholic Charities Feeding Our Neighbors campaign that supports a vast network of food pantries and emergency food programs. Since the November cuts in the food stamp program (now called S.N.A.P.) hunger is more of a crises than ever in East Harlem where nearly one out of every two children – 37,250 residents in all – live in poverty.
“This will mean that hundreds of families will not go to bed hungry at night,” Catholic Charities Executive Director Msgr. Sullivan said as he hugged Ms. Benitez, then unloaded another box of brown rice.