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Community Connect: Los Sures

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January 14, 2019

Back in November, NYC Ferry hosted a food drive where the donations we collected were given to local food pantries in Soundview, Astoria and South Williamsburg. One pantry, operated by Los Sures, on South 3rd Street in Williamsburg, took the time to give us a tour of their hydroponic garden where they teach residents how to grow their own food, as well as their chicken coop behind the senior center where the pantry is located. We met up recently with Alan Minor, Director of Program and Funds Development, Zach Williams, Food Access Manager and a few of the organization’s volunteers, Javier Cabrera and Santiago Lopez, at their “coffee” shop in a different storefront on South 3rd Street to talk about the history of the organization and what their future plans look like in a rapidly changing neighborhood.

Los Sures NYC Ferry

The organization that would become Southside United Housing Development Corporation (and later become known as Los Sures) started as a coalition of community members and church groups rehabbing units. They helped tenants fight back against abusive landlords across the Southside, before incorporating a few years later in 1972. A lot of people were leaving the neighborhood as a result of deindustrialization, factories along Kent Avenue were closing and the fiscal crisis was starting to hit the city. “This neighborhood was seeing a lot of disinvestment,” says Minor. Los Sures was able to work with Brooklyn Legal Services to incorporate and enter into a contract with the city to take over vacant city properties. Today they own and manage 36 buildings – some are community spaces, some are commercial space, some are senior housing, and all housing units are affordable. “It’s pretty amazing that Los Sures owns and manages this much valuable real estate, and we’re intentionally not trying to make a profit. It’s a conscious decision to use some of these spaces for the community,” acknowledges Minor.

Los Sures offers social services for community members including tenant advocacy, court assistance, HRA and benefits assistance, and tax advice. They’re working on creating a Resident Empowerment Center, which blends social services and community organizing. They want the center to be a space modeled on the “train-the-trainer” method where cohorts of community members can receive the resources and training they need to address individual and community issues. They want the center to be a mediation hub where volunteer lawyers and residents can build cases together. The last ten to twenty years has led them to focus on the fight against rapid gentrification of the Southside of Williamsburg by helping marginalized community members stay in their homes. The goal is that through education comes empowerment. El Museo de Los Sures is another community space where they’re showcasing artwork celebrating the history and culture of the Southside. “The spaces we’re talking about are a way of celebrating and engaging people in the community who are still here and do live here, this is their home and has been for generations,” said Williams.

Los Sures NYC Ferry

The space we’re in now is Cafe Ponico, a versatile commercial space being used to house hydroponic plants at the moment. It’s open for the general public to come in, have a cup of coffee, chat or volunteer. Javier, has been volunteering with Los Sures for at least 5 years. He was born and raised in Williamsburg and has seen the massive changes that have taken place. He thinks the neighborhood was going in the right direction but has been overshadowed by the “hip-ness” that everyone associates with the area now.

“Living in the city, you have limited space so being able to grow your own food especially indoors is a blessing,” says Javier. He spends a lot of time working with the hydroponic plants, mainly because he sees so much potential in teaching people how to grow their own food. Williams chimes in noting how today was a busy day at the food pantry, they ran out of almost everything, but the hydroponic plants help close the gaps, “No one else is growing or donating these specific herbs.”

NYC Ferry Los Sures

When I asked how he feels about the fact that he’s literally feeding his community, Javier explains that he never really saw it like that, “I guess I just look at the bigger picture, I want to make them happy.”

You can visit (and volunteer at) Los Sures’ Cafe Ponico at 357 S 3rd Street and the Museo de Los Sures at 120 S 1st Street about a 15 minute walk from our South Williamsburg Landing. “Study in Color,” an exhibit by Brooklyn-born and -based artist JD Baez, runs until January 31st. The exhibit can be viewed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 12 p.m.-7 p.m. through the end of the month.


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