Author Topic: Hunger crisis: Charities are strained as nearly 1 in 5 New Yorkers depend on aid for food  (Read 309 times)

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http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/1-5-new-yorkers-rely-charities-food-article-1.1723671


Hunger crisis: Charities are strained as nearly 1 in 5 New Yorkers depend on aid for food
In a city of wealth, 1.4 million people rely on a network of 1,000 food pantries and soup kitchens to eat. That's an increase of 200,000 people in five years, and the city's programs are struggling to keep up with that need.

By Barry Paddock AND Ginger Adams Otis / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Sunday, March 16, 2014, 8:46 PM



NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi
Mark Bonifacio/New York Daily News

City Harvest, a charity focused on fresh foods that are 'rescued' from supermarkets and restaurants, recently brought its mobile food market to the Stapleton Houses in Staten Island. Dozens of people lined up as a tractor-trailer unloaded 15,540 pounds of carrots, potatoes, grapefruits and apples, enough for as many as 400 households.

It's a quiet crisis. In a city of plenty, a staggering number of people are struggling to feed themselves and their families.

Nearly one in five New Yorkers, 1.4 million people, now rely on a patchwork network of 1,000 food pantries and soup kitchens across the city to eat.

That represents an increase of 200,000 people in five years — straining the charities that are trying to help.

The two biggest, City Harvest and the Food Bank for New York City, now provide nearly 110 million pounds of food to soup kitchens and food pantries a year.

Yet those working on the front lines of the hunger crisis say it’s still not enough.

“It’s an astounding surge in need, and it’s because it is so hard for people to find jobs, or find a decent-paying job. They are turning to us for emergency help,” said Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, 63, executive director of 90 free food outlets run by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.

“So many people, too many people, don’t have enough money to pay for rent and also eat.”

At the Washington Heights Ecumenical Food Pantry, bags packed with milk, juice, rice, pasta, tomato sauce, dry beans and other staples fly off the shelves.

Located in a small church vestry, the pantry is open one day a week, serving a steady clientele of 275 people. It could easily help three times as many, if only it had the food, volunteers said.

From soup kitchens in the Bronx, to mobile food markets on Staten Island and in Brooklyn, to pantries in Queens, the story is the same: lines stretching longer and longer, people arriving earlier and earlier, even in the depths of winter.

“Our Lady of Grace, in the northeast Bronx, saw the number of new households double in November — a 100% increase,” said Paul Costiglio, spokesman for Catholic Charities. “Across the board, our programs are reporting a continued increase in the number of working people, unemployed and families.”

The hunger crisis erupted when the Great Recession set in.



The Food Bank for New York City distributes food to pantries and soup kitchens across the city.

The number of city residents receiving aid under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, soared from 1.3 million in 2008 to 1.8 million today.

Yet, with so many people in need, the biggest benefit reduction in the 50-year history of food stamps took effect Nov. 1.

That’s when a temporary increase in benefits — pushed through by President Obama in 2009 as part of his economic stimulus program — lapsed.

New York households receiving food stamps saw their benefits decrease by an average of $30 to $50 a month, depending on a complex formula that takes into account family size and income.

For a typical family of three, that meant a drop to $189 a month, down from about $220.

Food pantry and soup kitchen operators said the impact was swift and dramatic: Although the economy had rebounded since the financial crisis, those at the bottom of the ladder had not fully shared in the recovery.

And so, on a frigid and windy Wednesday recently, a cluster of about 30 men and women stood outside — sometimes for as long as an hour — to get into the Food Bank for New York City’s Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem.

RELATED: GOV. CUOMO STEPS IN WITH FOOD STAMP AID AFTER FEDERAL CUTS

In the cramped basement, families took turns moving through a makeshift supermarket, picking what they liked from the small selection on the shelves.

“I got fish today. They gave me salmon,” said Alejandro Medina, 54, a maintenance man at a homeless shelter who earns about $24,000 a year.

His wife works part-time and brings in $8,000. With four kids at home — two of their own and two nephews they care for — they also get $189 a month in food stamps.

But after spending $1,200 a month in rent for their two-bedroom apartment in the Bronx, and paying their other bills, there’s never enough left for food, he said.
Scott Barry displays his card for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, in a Manhattan deli. The number of city residents receiving aid from the program rose from 1.3 million in 2008 to 1.8 million today.


Scott Barry displays his card for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, in a Manhattan deli. The number of city residents receiving aid from the program rose from 1.3 million in 2008 to 1.8 million today.

Damares Perez, 37, a single mother of four, snapped up the last bunch of fresh parsley.

“I’ve been coming here for about five years — we couldn’t eat without this extra food,” said Perez, an out-of-work hairdresser who uses the pantry to supplement her $379 a month in food stamps.

When they exited, others rushed in to take their place. About 250 people visit the pantry every day it’s open, advocates said.

An even longer line formed outside — people waiting for the 4 p.m. dinner service at the soup kitchen. More than two dozen men stood for more than an hour, stamping their feet and blowing on their hands as darkness edged across Frederick Douglass Blvd.

Still, when a woman with two small kids arrived, she was ushered to the front so her family could be first in the door.

“That’s our system here. We do see a lot of families, a lot of single moms, and you just can’t keep them outside hungry and cold,” said volunteer Kirk James, 55.

Nearly every emergency food program in the city has struggled in the wake of the November cut in food stamps.

“Eighty-five percent reported a drastic increase (in clients) in November 2013 compared to November 2012 — and remember we’d already set records that month because of Hurricane Sandy,” said Margarette Purvis, president of the Food Bank for New York City.

Nearly 50% of pantries and soup kitchens ran out of food in November, and an additional 25% had to move to smaller rations, said Purvis.

A mix of government programs, charities and private donations provide this food chain for the hungry.

At the top are the Food Bank for New York City and City Harvest, nonprofits that are united in a similar goal, but go about their business differently.

They give food to the same 1,000 food pantries and kitchens, but while the Food Bank delivers mostly canned and packaged goods, City Harvest focuses on fresh foods.
The Food Bank supplies mostly canned and packaged foods to about 1,000 food pantries and kitchens.


The Food Bank supplies mostly canned and packaged foods to about 1,000 food pantries and kitchens.

Funded by donations, City Harvest is a “food rescue” program, which means its vans zip across the five boroughs to pick up fresh food not sold or served by greenmarkets, food co-ops, supermarkets and restaurants. The charity also accepts produce from farmers upstate.

City Harvest also operates a program of “mobile markets” bringing fresh produce to six of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods.

At one of these mobile markets on Staten Island the other day, dozens lined up as a tractor-trailer unloaded 15,540 pounds of carrots, potatoes, grapefruits and apples, enough for as many as 400 households. As the weather turns warmer, organizers say, the lines will swell even more — and they’ll budget for 700 families or more.

RELATED: BOEHNER ACCUSES N.Y. OF 'CHEATING' FOOD STAMP RULES

On warm days, the lines can stretch for blocks, volunteers said.

Wanda Vargas, 59, who lives in the Stapleton Houses and cares for her daughter’s six children, said she always arrives early for the tractor-trailer’s twice-monthly visit.

“Every little bit helps as far as I’m concerned. Whatever they bring, everything is appreciated,” said Vargas, whose daughter works as a medical assistant making $12 an hour — not enough, Vargas said, to get by without an emergency food program.

Immediately behind her in line were a 78-year-old man from Ukraine, a middle-aged woman from China, a 78-year-old woman from Ukraine and a 65-year-old woman from Ecuador.

Ammal Madhavan, 77, an immigrant from India, retired in 2004 from her job as a school nurse. She took in her daughter and her daughter’s eight kids after her daughter lost her job as a bank teller four years ago. She takes two buses to get to the market.

“The food really helps a lot,” she said. “It’s very hard to live on Social Security. You can’t go get a cup of coffee. What can I do?”

Phyllis Gray, 58, who lives in the Stapleton Houses, had two granddaughters in tow. She worked one-on-one with kids as a crisis management paraprofessional with the city Education Department, and went on disability after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

“When I got sick, I didn’t have any money. Broke. Nothing. I had to downgrade,” Gray said.
Nearly 50% of pantries and soup kitchens ran out of food in November after federal food stamp benefits were cut, said Margarette Purvis, president of the Food Bank for New York City.



Nearly 50% of pantries and soup kitchens ran out of food in November after federal food stamp benefits were cut, said Margarette Purvis, president of the Food Bank for New York City.

She spotted the mobile market from her balcony one morning and ran down to register.

“It helps a lot since they cut the food stamps. I don’t have to buy potatoes. I don’t have to buy carrots, onions, apples. I concentrate on something else,” she said.

The mix of clients was typical of those battling hunger, advocates say.

“Contrary to popular belief, the homeless are the smallest population we serve. The No. 1 group is women over the age of 50 — it’s Grandma who has to go to the soup kitchen to eat,” said Purvis.

Veterans, children and working families aren’t far behind.

Some pantries might ask clients for ID to show they live nearby, but volunteers say nobody gets turned away, and no pantry or kitchen asks clients to offer proof of need.

“Would you wait two hours in the freezing cold or stand in a long line just for a little bit of food if you didn’t absolutely have to?” one pantry volunteer scoffed, when asked about vetting.

The federal government donates about 19 million pounds of canned or packaged food to the city annually. The provisions are stored at the Food Bank for New York City’s massive Bronx warehouse and delivered to pantries and soup kitchens. The state gives the nonprofit $3 million a year to buy deeply discounted food to supplement its supplies. The Food Bank also receives food donations and some grants from private business partners.

Unlike many other major urban centers, the city also adds some money to the pot. The Human Resources Administration oversees the taxpayer-funded Emergency Food Assistance Program, which gave the Food Bank $8 million last year to buy more items for pantries and kitchens.

“No one in our great city should ever go hungry. HRA and other city agencies are committed to ensuring people receive the assistance they need by securing our budget and promoting food stamps and the emergency food assistance program,” said a spokeswoman for the agency.

A federal farm bill passed last month imposed another round of food stamp cuts, threatening more hardship, but Gov. Cuomo seized on a loophole in the law to block the reductions.

But with some lawmakers in Washington clamoring for still more budget belt-tightening, advocates worry that many of the city’s needy are still in danger of falling off the hunger cliff.

gotis@nydailynews.com

“The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, Freemen, or Slaves.” G Washington July 2, 1776


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