Greater Syracuse Southside Neighborhood Association Serves Community, But Needs More Space
Walk into 2221 South Salina Street, and it’s immediately clear the space is pretty close to, if not at, max capacity. It’s the home of the Greater Southside Neighborhood Association’s food pantry, and they’re preparing for their Family Celebration Food Bag Distribution. Jackie LaSonde says they plan to distribute around 150 boxes of food and presents.
“You can give them an unwrapped toy and throw some stuff in a box or we can use what we know is care, what we like to see happen if we were receiving that box. So just beyond the door is a complete…every tape, everything I can think of to make it easy,” said LaSonde.
Helping LaSonde prep for the event on December 22ndare Charles Pierce-El, Alexander Williams, and Ida Stewart. The four of them are surrounded by refrigerators, freezers, boxes of canned food, shelves of cranberry apple juice and many other goods. They’ll use the food for their upcoming holiday event and their weekly pantry hours.
But people who utilize the pantry or attend their event on the 22nd can’t come inside. There simply isn’t room. So, they’re working with the city to find a bigger, better space.
“We’re really foot on gas, trying to make them do [it] because it’s not lost on us that people want to have dignity. They should not be outside picking up anything other than a pamphlet.”
But to think of this space as just a food pantry would be a mistake.
“January will be all about ‘Get Out The Vote.’ We’re back! We never left, all things aboard. And then redistricting, another nightmare.”
The recently released, updated draftof new Onondaga County legislature district lines drawn by county GOP officials are not fair in their eyes. Charles Pierce-El and Ida Stewart both say the maps as drawn still divide their community, the 16th district, and take away power.
“Cause you’re tearing my family apart. Simple as that. You’re separating me from my kin,” said Stewart.
“When you take that away, you’re taking away the population, of the highest population of African Americans. You’re taking that away,” said Pierce-El.
All of their work focuses on countering years of continued disenfranchisement experienced by Syracuse’s South Side. So whether it’s advocating for fair redistricting or mobilizing voters or handing out holiday food and gifts, it all comes back to that.
Both Pierce-El and Alexander Williams were born and raised in Syracuse. Ida Stewart has lived her for over fifty years. They all say they’ve seen resources leave their community.
“It seems like we’re recessing. You know, that’s one of the reasons why this space is so necessary because we recessed," said Stewart. "You know, people aren’t thriving as they were when our parents were here.”
But now after years of population decline and struggling industry, the City of Syracuse is looking in the face of two ‘once in a generation’ opportunities: The millions of dollars in American Rescue Plan Act Fundingand the incoming billion dollarI-81 viaduct project. This time, they want Southside voices heard when it comes to how these investments can benefit their neighborhood.
“We don’t want sympathy. We want justice. We want movement. And we want purpose. If the bridge is going to come down on top of us and we still not going to be better because of it, then Houston, we have a problem,” said LaSonde.
But first, LaSonde, Stewart, Pierce-El and Williams need more space, and not just for the food pantry holiday event. It will also allow them to expand their voter education and registration work, open more hours of the food pantry, and better advocate for their community.