City Harvest’s story begins with a potato. In 1982, Helen verDuin Palit was eating potato skins at a New York restaurant near the soup kitchen where she volunteered, but learned the chef discarded all the unused insides. When she asked the restaurant to donate them to the soup kitchen, which was struggling to feed everyone who came in, the idea for City Harvest—and the food rescue movement—was born.
In the four decades since its humble origins in an employee’s station wagon, the city’s largest food rescue organization has gathered more than a billion pounds of excess food and fresh produce going to waste from nearly 2,000 restaurants and grocery stores, delivering them to mobile vendors and farmers’ markets serving New Yorkers struggling to put meals on the table. Operating a fleet of 23 refrigerated trucks seven days a week, the nonprofit retrieves more than 200,000 pounds of food per day—and more than 75 million per year. Its mission has taken on newfound significance as visits to pantries increased 69 percent compared to pre-pandemic times, coupled with record-high inflation and the harrowing notion that up to 40 percent of all food in the U.S. goes to waste each year.
As the nonprofit gears up for its most crucial holiday season yet, it’s also unveiling a sprawling new campus, where corporate offices, storage warehouses, distribution centers, and community facilities all operate side by side. Called the Cohen Community Food Rescue Center, named after philanthropists Steven and Alexandra Cohen, the 150,000-square-foot complex repurposes a 19th-century train repair depot in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood into a state-of-the-art hub.
The LEED Gold transformation, overseen by Ennead Architects and Ware Malcomb, more than doubles City Harvest’s food storage and loading capacity. Hundreds of staffers can now gather inside a vast light-filled hall, which was brought to life by reopening clerestory windows and commissioning original artworks from local talents Cey Adams, Hektad, and Jessica Dalrymple. A colorful array of Sui Park’s amoeba-like sculptures, made using zip-ties, dangle above open-plan workspaces and bring flashes of whimsy. The office sits near more multi-purpose spaces that City Harvest will program with mobile markets to serve Sunset Park locals, who have long struggled with food insecurity.
With food at City Harvest’s core, its new headquarters required a top-notch event and dining hall appointed with a state-of-the-art expo kitchen. The nonprofit looked no further than Rockwell Group, the local firm renowned for theatrical hospitality projects and, more recently, nimble outdoor dining sheds to help business owners affected by pandemic closures. David Rockwell’s masterful touch—parquet wood flooring reclaimed from Upstate New York barns, brass kitchen fittings, and terra cotta tiles—elevates the spacious pop-up event hall into somewhat of a fine dining destination. The adjoining terrace, meanwhile, sports Loll deck chairs made of recycled milk jugs facing the picturesque Manhattan skyline.
“We have room to grow,” Jilly Stephens, CEO of City Harvest, told AD. “One hopes over time we’ll see the need for food subside, and then we can use this space for whatever the community needs, but right now New York needs a food pantry.” City Harvest wouldn’t be able to feed hungry New Yorkers without volunteers, so we recommend getting involved and giving back to the community if you’re looking for a holiday activity.