New food pantry directory connects people to free food in NYC, NJ, Philadelphia
Directory and Resource

New food pantry directory connects people to free food in NYC, NJ, Philadelphia

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Non-profit organization Lemontree is combining “the power of data and hospitality” to help people in the New York City and Philadelphia metropolitan areas access food pantries in their neighborhoods.

During the pandemic, Lemontree observed two key issues people experiencing food insecurity were facing during the pandemic: a lack of access to reliable up-to-date information about free food near them, and the stigma around admitting the need for help.

Through Lemontree’s free text helpline and online directory, clients are able to receive information about free food resources near them and supportive services throughout the process.

Lemontree’s online directory, which launched this past July, includes information about more than 3,800 food pantries and food banks in the five boroughs, northern New Jersey and the Philadelphia area, with plans to also cover southern New Jersey later this year. Users can also sign up for text reminders when nearby food pantries are open.

“The database is the result of thousands and thousands of phone calls working to verify the information from more than about 50 different data sources,” Kasumi Quinlan, community manager at Lemontree explained. “So, we combine all those resources and work to figure out which one is the most accurate, and confirm those details on a regular basis. And we also enrich that data with our client feedback.”

Each entry in the directory includes the hours, address, contact information and number of client referrals about the location. It also includes additional information, such as recommended arrival time, if people should bring their own bags and requirements, including presenting ID.

“So, if [clients] are not interested in the helpline portion they still have access to the information that we have,” Quinlan added.

The helpline, which launched in 2020, provides the human touch that Lemontree believes helps to alleviate the stigma, and makes people more likely to utilize the resources.

“We first text them everything that they need to know to get food in their neighborhood,” the community manager said. “Second, we meet them with empathy and warmth and humanity. And, unfortunately, that’s something that is not always found in social services, especially places that are really overworked and understaffed.”

According to Quinlan, Lemontree served an estimated 1,500 clients in 2020, and 50,000 in 2021 through the helpline. This year, they’re averaging 1,000 clients per week.

“Making our users feel supported in this way through our text messages, through the language that we use, just means they’re more likely to access these resources and they’re more likely to lean on us in the future if they need anything else. It also lets us build a deeper relationship with clients, and then they feel more comfortable sharing feedback with us,” she said. “That feedback helps us improve our recommendations for the next client.”

Lemontree’s assistance is not limited to just food pantries. The organization’s food specialists can also assist people with signing up for government benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

People looking to support Lemontree can donate on the organization’s website. Lemontree also coordinates volunteer groups.