Santa Dinowitz fills stockings with food, holiday spirit

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He’s spread holiday cheer and filled bellies in the Bronx for more than 15 years. No, it’s not Santa Claus. It’s Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, and he’s back again this season, making sure no one in this part of the city goes hungry for the holidays.

The lawmaker’s annual holiday canned food drive kicked off Nov. 14 and carries on through Dec. 12. Donors are encouraged to give what they can, especially along the lines of foods like cereals, dried beans, pasta, rice, tuna, coffee, tea, powdered milk, gelatin, and canned fruits, vegetables, soups and juices.

“We first started this because there was a tremendous need out there,” Dinowitz said. “I wish I could do this all year round, but we do it during the holiday time to make food available to those in need.”

The donated food is delivered to the Saint Frances of Rome Food Pantry and the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center. Dinowitz has had a relationship with KHCC his entire life, and his giving back to the center creates a full circle moment that’s been spinning for more than a decade. Dinowitz grew up in Kingsbridge Heights, and his love and interest in his community is the gift that keeps giving.

“We love to have him every year support us with the food drive,” said William Littleton, development and health community director at KHCC. “The community we serve is low-income, and one of the issues we deal with is access to affordable foods. This is a way so that people have something around for Christmas.”

Littleton and his staff, however, take their mission of creating a happy and healthy environment for Kingsbridge beyond the holiday drive. They grow food from their community garden and donate their produce to those in need.

“We understand that food access is a problem within our area, and we understand … people have two, three jobs,” Littleton said. “It’s easy to buy takeaway for a family meal. We want to make sure that the community has the resources, knowledge and access to healthy food.”

But it’s not just providing good food, it’s also teaching the necessary components for a nutritious meal. Through its wellness program, the community center hosts cooking classes and teaches residents how to make homemade organic cleaning products.

Some 160 people go through their garden each week. Community members are encouraged to come in and reserve a plot so they can cultivate their own little patches of veggies. That’s important, especially for the Bronx, where a recent report from Montefiore Hospital showed the Bronx had the highest percentage of youth who hadn’t consumed any fruits or vegetables within the past seven days.

The Bronx still holds the champion’s belt for the highest food insecurity rate in the city, and this winter the number of empty tummies hasn’t shrunk.

“Those needs have increased and things haven’t gotten better, they’ve gotten worst,” Dinowitz said. “Maybe the economy is doing good for some people, but not everyone, and this drive is about trying to share what we have and helping people.”

Donations are being accepted at Manhattan College’s social action suite, located at 4513 Manhattan College Parkway. Donations also can be made at Dinowitz’s district office, located at 3107 Kingsbridge Ave.

P.S. 7 Milton Fein School is a big contributor to the holiday canned food drive, Dinowitz said. Although most students there don’t hail from affluent backgrounds — and some may be in need themselves — it doesn’t stop them from donating.

The drive also accepts money, which is used to buy food for those without.

“We want to make sure that our participants have the quintessential holiday experience,” Littleton said. “We want them to have turkey, the nice big meal, the gifts that everyone else gets, and make sure they get those experiences (so) they can celebrate as a family and … ease a lot of the hardship people go through year in and year out.”

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