Joe Preach runs a food pantry on Staten Island. He does it to help people in need—and because he knows what it’s like to struggle.
Preach, a Prince’s Bay resident, is the CEO and founder of the South Shore Community Food Pantry, located in Huguenot. The pantry isn’t housed inside a building or church like many others of its kind are. Preach’s pantry is outside, set up on a sidewalk at Chisholm Street and Amboy Road near Tottenville High School in a sort-of “pop-up” style. The location allows for more space, not just for food, but to hold special events that introduce the community to other available resources.
“Every first Tuesday of every month is what we call our community days,” Preach, 60, said. “We bring services to the South Shore that normally don’t come here.”
Many people are under the assumption that the island’s South Shore doesn’t really suffer from food insecurity. But the hundreds of people Preach and his volunteers serve on many days prove otherwise.
In fact, as of September this year, more than 100,000 people stopped by the pantry. That’s a big number for a mission that started less than three years ago. Many of these people include families with small children, and senior citizens. The pantry offers a variety of foods, including fresh produce from City Harvest and lots of items with a long shelf life.
From Homeless to Helping
For Preach, a U.S. Military veteran who served from 1979-1985, helping others is something that is close to home for him. He explained how hard times plagued him during last decade’s housing crisis. In 2012, he found himself homeless, often having to seek refuge in the city’s shelter system.
Wanting to change things, Preach stayed focused on improving his life. It took a while, but eventually he was able to get out of the shelter system and find an apartment that was affordable and manageable.
“You have to be able to make a choice. Are you comfortable like this? Do you want to accept it? Or do you want it to change? I wanted it to change,” Preach explained. “I actually feel that me being homeless was God’s plan. He had to strip me of who I was to become who I am. And I’m good with it.”
That’s when Preach knew he wanted to give back. In 2019, he started volunteering at a local church, organizing clothing and toiletry drives for people in need. He also drove a shower van around Staten Island to provide free showers for the homeless. When the pandemic struck in March 2020, all of these operations were ending, but the South Shore Community Food Pantry was just beginning.
Starting the South Shore Community Food Pantry on Staten Island
Not happy with soup kitchens and pantries closing in 2020, Preach got together with a few others who wanted to help the many people who were furloughed from their jobs or in need of food for any reason. They quickly organized a makeshift drive-through food pantry that was completely outdoors. What started out as a small grassroots effort has blossomed today into an official nonprofit with lots of community partners. Companies including Northwell Health, ShopRite and many local businesses support the pantry, whether through donations, services and even sometimes grants.
Northwell Health has stopped by the pantry to give flu shots and blood-pressure screenings. In September, the pantry gave out dozens of backpacks filled with school supplies for children at the pantry.
On Oct. 15 at 10am, Preach plans to have a special Halloween event, complete with volunteers in costume and lots of candy. More surprises are planned throughout the holiday season, too.
Volunteers at the pantry range in age. Many students come from nearby Tottenville High School, as well as the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program and receive community service credit.
The South Shore Community Food Pantry is located at Chisholm Street and Amboy Road. It is open on the first Tuesday and third Saturday of the month, 10am until supplies last, which is about 12:30pm.