Before most of us have had our Saturday morning coffee, Laura Beth Comer, recently named NY1’s New Yorker of the Week, has given her four children breakfast, set up the big coffee kettle outside the Food for Brooklyn pantry she founded at the start of the Pandemic, greeted volunteers and showed them their jobs, unloaded a donation of over 100 bagels from the family car, and maybe even broken down a few boxes.
Meanwhile, her second youngest and most extroverted, Penelope, aged five, loves greeting people as they arrive at the basement entrance of the First Polish Baptist Church on Sutton Street for food and community. One of the women on line smiles and gives the child a dollar. The kid is adorable.
Greenpointers spoke with Laura Beth Comer about the gifts and motivation behind running a pantry in her neighborhood, the challenges it’s facing right now, and how people can help.
Greenpointers: Congratulations on being named New York One’s New Yorker of the Week for founding and running Food for Brooklyn! How are you handling the sudden fame?
Laura Beth Comer: People have been sweet, but I don’t like attention. I just want to do it. Something I feel strongly about that wasn’t said on the video is that I genuinely love helping when there is a need and I’m grateful that I can because God gave me a heart to serve others. The pantry has also given many people in the community a chance to serve, and joy has come in so many ways.
For instance, some of the people who’ve come to the pantry for food have become volunteers. And some of our older friends like to arrive before we even open to have a cup of coffee, sit, and talk.
Greenpointers: How have community members helped the pantry distribute groceries and even toiletries month after month since you started during the height of the pandemic, in May 2020?
Laura Beth Comer: I’ve met so many people! People have helped in different ways: setting up and distributing food on Saturdays, staffing our last Sunday of the month food drives at the farmers’ market in McGolrick, and picking up and delivering food from our local partners. Different groups have also supported us with food drives of their own — The Girl Scouts recently collected food for us. The Coffee Shop on Nassau Avenue has made itself an outpost for food collection during business hours.
Other local partners have also been amazing and enabled us to provide more fresh food. Eden’s, a salad shop on Franklin Avenue, gives us fresh produce for the salads we distribute, Baker’s Dozen provides fresh bagels, and North Brooklyn Bakery is to thank for the loaves of bread. Paulie Gee’s has been there since the beginning, helping us and donating pizza for our volunteers when we have events. The Polish Baptist Church not only provides the space, but they’ve helped in many other ways, like picking up and delivering food. And, of course, there are the monetary donors who make the whole thing possible. It costs about $800 to run each pantry and some people are recurring donors.
Greenpointers: What are the challenges of running a pantry?
Laura Beth Comer: It’s a lot of work and a lot of money. Since I returned to teaching, my husband, Blake, has taken over more behind the scenes, and the truth is, my kids have sacrificed a lot. They often enjoy helping out, but this is what we do every other Saturday. One morning I woke up and realized I forgot to find volunteers, so I said, “Wake up! We’re all going to the pantry!”
We also need to raise the money it requires. And…well, organization isn’t my strong point. I could use help keeping track of everything.
Greenpointers: How would you like the pantry to grow?
Laura Beth Comer: We really want to provide more fresh fruit and vegetables. Thanks to Eden’s, for instance, we’ve been able to distribute salads for lunch, and we’d love to find more local partners to donate fresh food, especially if it would otherwise go to waste.
Greenpointers: Who can come to the pantry and who can volunteer?
Laura Beth Comer: We welcome anyone in the community to visit Food for Brooklyn when they need it! And we welcome volunteers in different capacities. Community has been one of the best parts of running this pantry.
Food for Brooklyn pantry takes place every other Saturday, 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., at the First Polish Baptist Church on 55 Sutton Street. The pantry will be open on August 5th and 19th.
The next food drive will be on August 27th at McGolrick Farmers’ Market. Food drives are held on the last Sunday of the month.
To volunteer, partner, donate or ask questions, email FoodforBrooklyn@gmail.com or find them on Instagram at #foodforbrooklyn.