'A Good Laugh Can Fix Anything': Getting to Know the Indefatigable Robin Klueber, Founder of Ascension Food Pantry

This Women's History Month, we're highlighting Robin Klueber, who founded CCS grantee Ascension Food Pantry in 2014.

March 08, 2024

When Robin Klueber founded Ascension Church Food Pantry ten years ago in 2014, she had no way of knowing it would grow to serve over 350 families per month with nutritious groceries. Today, she serves as the tireless Director of the pantry, spreading goodwill throughout the neighborhood.

A Columbia Community Service (CCS) grantee since 2020, we are proud to support the pantry and its many volunteers as they work to help our neighbors in need who are facing food hardship, which is on the rise in New York City. Over the past four years, CCS has been able to provide $28,000 in grants to the pantry to assist in their food relief efforts.

On the third Saturday of each month, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Ascension Church's rectory basement at 221 W. 107th St., Ascension Food Pantry distributes groceries in the form of fresh dairy, meats, and produce as well as canned and dry goods and packaged foods. Per distribution, the pantry provides at least six meals for a family of four. 

"We believe we are making a difference in fighting hunger in our community; that which has always existed due to inequalities in our social system and has now intensified due to the pandemic, the need to support our new neighbors seeking asylum, and the current inflationary environment," said Klueber. "Distributing groceries in our 'client choice' style allows our clients to ‘shop’ with us, choosing the foods they prefer, which in turn gives them the dignity they deserve, and minimizes food waste."

One of the things that makes the Ascension Food Pantry unique is that it is run primarily by volunteer local youth.

"Teens from many schools, youth groups, and community organizations across the city help us by doing inventory, stocking shelves, stacking the food for clients to shop, assisting with filling their bags and carrying them to the street," Klueber said. "They teach and support the younger kids and kids who are new to the pantry. Working at the pantry offers these kids the opportunity to do something really good by making a difference, and making them stronger as they help others."

This Women's History Month, we sat down with Klueber to learn more about her leadership of the Ascension Church Food Pantry.

What’s your inspiration for serving in your current role?

I am inspired by the impact our pantry has on the community. I see and hear the joy and appreciation our clients feel for what we provide; nutritious, fresh and appealing groceries of generous portions. I am inspired at the impact this work has in building self-esteem in our young volunteers; they learn to work together, respect each other and get the job done! It’s amazing how they’ve learned to treat each and every client with sincere dignity and importance.

I’m inspired by the support we continually receive from our parish, our neighbors, schools, restaurants, local city council people and other leaders, and of course, those benefactors who support us so generously with monetary donations.

How does your organization positively impact Harlem, Morningside Heights, and New York City?

We positively impact the lives of our neighbors by offering wonderful groceries, served to offer our clients more than nutritious, delicious food, but dignity and respect. Our clients are always treated like they are our best customers! We know we make a difference, enabling those in need to get good food, to combat hunger, and support each other.

What’s your superpower?

My superpower is my sense of humor, whether I’m putting out fires or pushing to carry on. I love to laugh with others, to make light of things that challenge us; whether it be the wrong food delivered, not delivered, or delivered so early we’re still sleeping! We’ve laughed over roll-away cans, broken eggs, and spilled milk. A good laugh can fix anything!

My superpower is my sense of humor, whether I’m putting out fires or pushing to carry on. I love to laugh with others, to make light of things that challenge us...A good laugh can fix anything!

What’s a tip you have for other women in nonprofit leadership roles?

Appreciate those in your organization, be it your colleagues, superiors, staff, or volunteers—they are people who work for the mission. Remember to treat them, especially those who volunteer their time and talents, with the utmost kindness and gratitude.

What’s your favorite place in New York City?

One of my favorite spots in New York City is the restaurants along Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen. There are so many choices, so many interesting selections of cultural, ethnic, and local food! You can never get enough!

If you would like to get involved with the Ascension Food Pantry, you can always reach out to Robin Klueber at [email protected].

Please continue to support the work of wonderful CCS grantees like Ascension, and donate to Columbia Community Service today. Any amount will make a difference.