NEW YORK - Every two weeks, truckloads of fresh fruits and vegetables are delivered to the Love Wins Food Pantry.
The pop-up pantry is run out of Friend's Tavern in Jackson Heights. The food comes from partnerships with the city and other pantries.
It was started for the LGBTQ+ community during the COVID pandemic and is run solely by volunteers. Mark Buhrmester helps run the nonprofit.
"We started in June 2020. There were a lot of food pantries in the neighborhood helping people who needed it, but they were all run out of churches, and I know not every queer person feels comfortable going to a church and asking for help. So a bunch of people in the community decided let's start our own food pantry and run it out of a gay bar on Roosevelt Avenue," Buhrmester said.
As word spread, more and more people started lining up for food. Since Love Wins is all about being inclusive, what started with the LGBTQ+ community quickly expanded to include anyone who needed help.
Claudia Gonzales enjoys the food and volunteering for the pantry.
"It's a beautiful thing. We share. We help, together, for anything we need," Gonzales said.
Day Sanchez said the team of volunteers has become a family.
"On day one, I literally felt the love. I know our pantry is called Love Wins, but I literally felt the love that day. Like, I didn't know anyone ... But it just felt inclusive," Sanchez said.
That love is what keeps 78-year-old Wayne Judkins coming back. He volunteers with both Love Wins and the Queens Center for Gay Seniors, which is right down the street from the pantry. Judkins grew up in Oklahoma and remembers coming out to his family when he was 23.
"Most of my family didn't accept me. I had three brothers, one of them was very accepting and the other two didn't talk to me for 11 years," said Judkins.
Judkins served in the Peace Corps in Africa where he had to hide he was gay.
"In many of the countries, it was against the law. In fact, now in Uganda, you can actually be killed legally for being gay," Judkins said. "So coming back to Queens, where you could be yourself, was really quite amazing."
The Queens Center for Gay Seniors is all about community. Dinyar Master comes five days a week.
"The center has wonderful programs like Tai Chi, chair yoga, aerobics, sometimes seminars on different subjects - finance or health," Master said.
Fumiko Ohno and Eleanor Batchelder have been together for 36 years and spent most of that time in Toronto, Canada, but moved to Jackson Heights because of the strong LGBTQ+ community.
"Everybody knows here is a gay center. It's clear. Before, people were hiding. Now that means we don't need to hide either," Ohno said.
"We can be quite visible here because half the population is involved in the gay life," Batchelder said.
Wayne Judkins said everyone is welcome.
"You don't have to be gay to come to either the center or to receive the food. You just have to be someone who needs some help. And I think that's what we should all do is try to help our fellow human beings," Judkins said.
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