The city closed down the food pantry run by the Grandparents Relative Care Resource Center from Rosa Parks Boulevard on Wednesday morning.
Waheedah Muhammad, executive director for the Grandparents Center, said the Division of Health ordered the pantry closed due to rodent problems. She said extermination activity in the upper floor has forced rodents down to her storefront.
The landlord hasn’t kept up with extermination in part of the building at 259 Rosa Parks Boulevard leased by her organization.
“We have a problem with the new owner that bought the building,” said Muhammad on Thursday morning.
But, health director Paul Persaud provided a different explanation.
“The complaint that came in was for rodent. It was closed down because it’s an illegal pantry,” said Persaud. Typically, inspectors check to see whether a location is legitimate when responding to a complaint. When an establishment is not in the books it is ordered to halt operations.
“I called it in to the board of health,” said Ernest Rucker, new president of the Grandparents Center’s board. He said the new landlord, Iron Horon, has failed to take steps to tackle the rodent problem at the building.
Rucker explained when the food pantry moved from 17th Avenue to Rosa Parks Boulevard and Hamilton Avenue organization officials did not think it required new approvals from the Division of Health.
“They were under the impression the certification would transfer to Hamilton Avenue,” said Rucker.
“We explained to them what they have to do to become legal,” said Persaud. He said the organization needs to submit a floor plan showing where food is being stored, where the sink, and washing facilities are situated.
“We’re not going to charge them for the whole process,” said the health director. He said plan review costs $250 and certificate $175. Both fees are waived for nonprofit groups.
Persaud said the organization has to have an extermination plan, a typical requirement for all food serving establishments.
Both Muhammad and Rucker said the closure is temporary. Rucker said he hopes to get the organization in compliance before the end of the week.
The pantry serves 1,000 people per month, said Muhammad. Rucker said the pantry was started in 2011. It has been operating out of the corner of Rosa Parks Boulevard and Hamilton Avenue since 2015.
Prominent developer Charlies Florio provided the space at 259 Rosa Parks Boulevard free of charge. He sold the building five months ago, he said.
“I haven’t reneged,” said Florio. He continues to pay $4,000 in rent to the new landlord on behalf of the Grandparents Center.
“We’re going to be back open,” said Muhammad, reassuring those who rely on her food pantry to feed their families.