The Urban Outreach Center is More than a Food Pantry

by Leah Butz
Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series

Name: Urban Outreach Center NYC

What they do: The Urban Outreach Center (UOC) is an Upper Manhattan-based nonprofit with a vision to “end the hunger gap in East Harlem and the Upper East Side.” UOC works to ensure access to all types of material necessities beyond those found at many food pantries — these include healthy foods, personal hygiene items, clothing, and social services. UOC helps more than 65,000 New Yorkers per year to find food, social services support, and many other necessities.

How they do it: UOC has a food pantry that is open on Wednesdays and Fridays and offers a hot community meal on Tuesday evenings. In addition to food they also provide educational and social services including nutrition education, mail service for unhoused neighbors, a shower program, and other social services that strive to treat the root causes of poverty rather than just the outcomes. 

“Overall, the Urban Outreach Center is a special place because of its dedication to serving the whole person and its commitment to empowering communities to create lasting change.” – Luisa Lopez, MSW, Director of Social Services.

Latest project/campaign: UOC is a member of the NYC Food Policy Alliance, a group of 80+ food system organizations discussing City-wide food issues and policy. This spring, Shaun Kennedy, the UOC’s Director of Food Programs & Advocacy, went to City Hall to submit testimony at a Budget Hearing of the City Council Committee on Finance, advocating for the City’s support in providing food resources to community members in need.

Additionally, UOC’s Assistant Director of Guest Experience, Josephine Wilson, was chosen to participate in the City Harvest Network Capacity Team’s Peer Cohort Program through which she will develop UOC’s volunteer training and leadership programming to provide a dignified and welcoming experience for all guests at the food pantry.

Profit/nonprofit: 501(c)(3) Nonprofit

Annual Budget: $600,000

Interesting fact about how it is working to positively affect the food system: UOC is unique among the many NYC food pantries and soup kitchens in that it is majority women- and BIPOC-led, which helps to ensure that programming is culturally appropriate and relevant to the guests it serves. 

Location: 1st Ave, between 90th & 91st St.
Core Programs: 

  1. Food Access: A farmers’ market-style food pantry on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as a community dinner on Tuesday nights. 
  2. Mail Distribution: Provides a transitional mailing address for unhoused neighbors to use in applying for jobs and other types of administrative paperwork.
  3. Shower program: Safe and dignified showers are offered to unhoused neighbors free of charge. Individuals are provided with towels, toiletries, and other necessities.

Number of staff: 5
Number of volunteers: 125-150 per month
Areas served: East Harlem & Upper East Side
Year Started: 1990
Executive Director: Rev. Dr. Jordan Tarwater
Contact Information:; (212) 288-6743

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