Not Your Average Food Pantry

“Poor nutrition can impair our well-being and daily health and can also reduce our ability to lead an enjoyable and active life.”

Lucila Santana, CAMBA’s Emergency Food Pantry Coordinator

In 2013, the national food insecurity rate was 15.8%, which means that 49 million Americans were living without enough food to eat. The food insecurity rate in the district that CAMBA serves is even higher than the national average, at 22.3%, according to the Map the Meal Gap 2015 report by Feeding America. This district ranks among the top 30 districts in food insecurity nationally. The effects of poor nutrition and not getting enough food can be dire. Luci Santana, CAMBA’s Emergency Food Pantry Coordinator, said that, “poor nutrition can impair our well-being and daily health and can also reduce our ability to lead an enjoyable and active life.” Additionally, it can increase stress and tiredness, and be a factor in developing potentially life-threatening illnesses.

CAMBA’s emergency food pantry combats food insecurity and its negative effects by providing nutritional meals to 4,300 people in need each month. This food pantry has a keen focus on client choice and nutrition. The way it operates mimics a supermarket. Clients who come are able to choose the items that they want to bring home, like grocery shopping, but the items are free of charge. According to Santana, this aspect is meaningful because it “allows [guests] to open up on what their true personal needs are and it gives us a better understanding so that we can positively impact their lives.” The pantry also welcomes feedback from guests and does its best to comply. Santana said the supermarket system “is meant to reestablish our clients’ dignity while shopping by empowering [guests] to select their own food choices that meet their household cultural needs.”

Another unique characteristic of the emergency food pantry is its onsite hydroponic farm, which was completed in 2013. This pseudo farm enables CAMBA to grow a portion of its own produce, including bok choy, lettuce, spinach, and herbs. The technology allows for these plants to be grown year round without requiring any natural sunlight. The pantry is also stocked with other vegetables and fresh fruits from local farms. CAMBA’s dedication to providing healthy food for our clients is important because over the years, “there has been a large increase in the need for more nutrient-rich foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, low fat dairy products, dry beans and lean cut meats,” according to Santana, and “our [guests] want to eat healthier, and they come to us as a resource that will assist them in meeting their nutritional needs,” she added.

In addition to food, CAMBA’s emergency food pantry also offers public benefit screening and assistance with applications, nutritional education, and information and referrals to money management, social service programs, and healthcare providers. The nutrition education is coordinated through connection with Cornell University along with several other organizations.

CAMBA’s commitment to offering nutrition education and healthy food is of the utmost importance for the population we serve. CAMBA is not able to do this work alone. We are very grateful for the backing that we receive and would like to thank our supporters, especially those who helped raise $10,387 this past year through our annual Turkey Drive.

A client of the food pantry picks up his Thanksgiving turkey.


CAMBA connects New Yorkers to opportunities through its dedicated staff, who are trained to provide solutions to the biggest challenges of life in New York.