Queens Eagle: Queens resident dubbed hunger hero for pandemic pantry efforts
By Rachel Vick
No Kid Hungry has named one of Queens’ own as a hunger hero for her unwavering dedication to getting food to New York City residents.
Lifetime resident of northwest Queens Dr. Anju Rupchandani, who serves as the executive director of Zone 126, was honored for her work during the pandemic to support families at P.S. 171, I.S. 126 and Long Island City High School.
“What I’ve seen over the course of my career is how many students are living in temporary housing, in shelters and just those who always seem to not have enough,” she said. “I had always wanted to create a pantry at all three partner schools and when COVID hit, it seemed like this was the time.”
Under normal circumstances, the organization provides services to families at the three schools all year long but adapted last year to set up an outdoor food pantry, which has provided pantry staples during the pandemic and continued to connect with the community on the ground.
Rupchandani described the acknowledgement as “bittersweet” because while the circumstances are far from ideal she hopes that recognition will open the door for a permanent pantry in the schools.
Rupchandani is no stranger to the realities of financial hardship, and grew up scheduling her classes to fit in an after school job to support herself and help her family.
“The need is so great,” she said. “We’re seeing how many families have lost their jobs during the pandemic and how students, especially high schoolers, have picked up working themselves to try and contribute to household income.”
“Some people don’t have understanding of the reality — they see the lights and glamour of New York City but it’s like living in A Tale of Two Cities, and even more so these days.”
She said that prioritizing dignity is an important factor in her work, making an effort to open lines of communication and maintain respect for the struggling families — some of whom had expressed feelings of discomfort during their experiences with other pantries.
She added that through “legitimate conversations” the team at Zone 126 has been able to learn about additional needs, like creative outlets for the kids. To meet the demand, they were able to set up a virtual art club and get supplies to the students
“It’s what’s needed, and how we build relationships,” Rupchandani said.
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